2/2 (1 TD)
1/5 (1 INT)
5/10 (1 TD, 1 INT)
3/4 (1 TD)
2/6 (1 INT)
26/33 (1 TD, 1 INT)
Outside of Pocket: 3/4 (1 TD) and two throwaways (one intentional grounding)
Under Pressure: 5/5 (1 TD) and one throwaway
Red Zone: 1/1 and one throwaway (intentional grounding)
3rd/4th Down: 5/8 (1 TD, 1 INT) and one throwaway
Forced Adjustments: 3
Everyone is worried about Trevor Lawrence. The sacred son of every college football fan, the messiah for any number of NFL fan bases yearning for the No.1 pick in 2021, the next evolution of Clipboard Jesus — Lawrence came into the year with expectations rivaled only by Andrew Luck at Stanford, but he’s not been the clear star he was ticketed to be. At least not by the numbers.
The perception of Lawrence this season is made worse by how disastrous his primetime start against Georgia Tech was. He barely completed half his passes and he threw two interceptions with just one touchdown to serve as a counterweight. Clemson’s rushing offense took over and turned the game into a blowout anyway, but there was no way to walk away from the TV that game and feel like Lawrence was what he was said to be. He tanked on national television in his first (and only, to that point) performance of the year.
Statistically, Lawrence didn’t dramatically improve this week against Texas A&M. His yards per attempt barely moved from 7.3 to 7.7 and he threw one interception instead of two. Improved, sure, but not nearly enough to say he was putting up the Heisman numbers many thought he would.
The difference is Lawrence outperformed his box score this week in a way that he didn’t against Georgia Tech. Lawrence found a rhythm and hit passes all over the field. He showed off the natural poise and command of the pocket that entices NFL teams. When the situation called for it, Lawrence flashed the heroics and bravado that energized him to take down Alabama in last year’s championship game. It wasn’t the perfect performance by any means, but despite a lackluster box score, Lawrence looked like himself again.
If anything, Lawrence was less afraid to give his guys chances. He was willing to rifle in throws over the middle, down the field, and into traffic in a way he didn’t always show last year. As a freshman, Lawrence’s success was mostly through properly reading mirrored passing concepts and attacking the wide side of the field with his fantastic arm. Now he is expanding his palette. Taking riskier throws and intentionally throwing into tough windows is going to be an adjustment period for the young passer and his offense, but in the long run, it will pay dividends.
This grab bag of throws into traffic highlights the up and down nature of Lawrence trying to figure things out. The second throw down the right hash to wide receiver Tee Higgins is beautiful. It’s tough to split defenders down the hash, but Lawrence leaves it on Higgins’ back shoulder and just high enough for Higgins to be able to leap around to find it in the air. A great play by Higgins, no doubt, but that was also the only spot Lawrence could have put that ball to make the throw work.
Conversely, two of Lawrence’s throws down the sideline had too much air under them and allowed Texas A&M defensive backs to get a hand on the ball. The interception Lawrence threw in the last clip was about 10 yards short of where it needed to be. The decision to throw the deep ball there was fine, but the arc and pace of the ball almost make it seem as though he was trying to throw a back shoulder ball, yet the ball was lead up the field and toward the receiver’s inside shoulder. Lawrence has to develop a consistent feel for how to throw each style of vertical ball, not just when.
Thankfully, that interception was inconsequential within the context of the game state. The Tigers were up three scores with five minutes and change left in the fourth quarter. Texas A&M didn’t really have a chance to win, even with Lawrence gifting them the ball. Still, if Lawrence is going to use those late-game moments to test his limits, it would be nice to see him come closer to the mark than he did on that throw. He will learn from it and be better next time around.
Aside from that harmless interception, Lawrence was mostly fantastic. Clemson’s offense as a unit was still knocking off some rust, but Lawrence proved to be all the things that make him a future first-overall pick: accurate, cool in the pocket, and chock full of arm talent.
No throw encapsulated Lawrence’s raw and natural talent as much as this one. Rolling away from one’s throwing arm creates high difficulty throws for quarterbacks because it’s difficult to align their bodies to comfortably get the ball out. Some quarterbacks, like Aaron Rodgers, have mastered the art of leaving their feet and adjusting their body in the air. Others, like Russell Wilson, show incredible core control to keep their shoulders square and bring their arm fully around, completely disconnecting themselves from their lower body. Lawrence falls more in the Wilson category with what he showed on this throw.
Lawrence made a handful of big league throws from the pocket, too. As he showed a handful of times last season, Lawrence has a knack for seeing and throwing into the “honey hole” of Cover 2 coverage: the area between the underneath flat defender and the deep-half defender. Lawrence threw countless smash-corners and vertical sit routes into that spot as a freshman. Throwing to that spot takes careful timing, a powerful arm, and precise ball placement. Brett Favre made a living throw into the “honey hole” because he was one of the few passers in the league who could consistently windows that area.
Everything about this throw needed to be perfect. Lawrence had to get the ball out at the right time, locate the ball between two defenders, and rifle it in with enough speed to make sure neither defender could close on it. Even from the tighter NFL hashes, this is a difficult throw. From the wide college splits? Good luck finding many guys aside from Lawrence who can make this throw reliably. Lawrence made throws like this all last year and proved he still has that rare touch this season.
More than just throwing accurate balls, though, it was Lawrence’s process getting to the throw that stood out against the Aggies. As a freshman, Lawrence’s comfort in the pocket and poise under pressure came in waves. He had his moments, but he tended to shy away from pressure a bit and not always operate as if he had an answer to pressure. If this Texas A&M game is any indication, that is no longer an issue.
Here, Lawrence shows off his refined pocket control and footwork to pre-mitigate pressure. As soon as the ball hits his hand, Lawrence knows he wants the 10-yard out from the slot. Lawrence finishes his three-step drop and makes two small shuffles to his left. Shuffling to the left not only puts Lawrence slightly closer to his target and creates a more favorable angle, but it slides him toward the slide of the protection. He is expecting to be pressured from his right, if anywhere, and his decisive pocket movement confirms it. As he often does, Lawrence resets comfortably to throw and threads a perfect ball for a Clemson first down. It may not be exciting, but that's the type of play that makes an NFL quarterback.
In other instances, Lawrence didn't get to deal with the pressure before it gets there. Sometimes quarterbacks have to either be able to move out of the pocket, like Lawrence showed on the rolling touchdown earlier, or have the confidence to stick a throw with defenders in their face. Lawrence displayed the latter late in this game.
The entire pocket collapsed in front of Lawrence on this play, but he didn't flinch. With a newfound confidence, Lawrence stuck to his guns and ripped a back-shoulder throw before getting smacked by two Aggie defenders. In an ideal world, Lawrence probably wanted to wait a tick longer and throw this ball down the sideline, but with the pass-rush forcing his hand, Lawrence made the correct adjustment to rush the ball out and make the shorter back-shoulder throw.
Lawrence's revival in the box score and ascension back into the media spotlight is coming. It's easy right now to http://www.cfbstats.com/2019/leader/national/player/split01/category02/sort01.htmlhttp://www.cfbstats.com/2019/leader/national/player/split01/category02/sort01.html — 87th in passer rating, 66th in yards per attempt, and just two touchdowns to three interceptions — and claim he is, and will continue, having a sophomore slump. The tape versus Texas A&M proves otherwise, though. If Lawrence continues to play the way he did in that game, the numbers will follow.
People are quick to forget that Deshaun Watson barely completed half his passes and threw four touchdowns to three interceptions in his opening two games as a junior (vs Auburn and Troy). Or that Baker Mayfield went 19-of-39 for 187 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions in his second start at Oklahoma as a redshirt sophomore in 2015. Or that Sam Darnold debuted his redshirt sophomore season in 2017 with a zero touchdown, two interception performance versus, of all schools, Western Michigan. Or, well, you get the idea. Even the best college quarterbacks and future pros aren't perfect, especially early in the season.
It won't be long until Lawrence captures the nation again. Clemson's offense is loaded with talent and they are averaging 38 points per game while clearly not operating at max capacity. As Lawrence settles into the season, this Tigers offense is going to turn into the ruthless, merciless scoring machine that crushes the rest of the country.