9/13 (TD, INT)
34/46 (2 TD, INT)
Outside the Pocket: 5/6
Under Pressure: 10/15 (TD, INT)
Red Zone: 3/4 (TD)
3rd/4th Down: 6/10 (4 conversions, TD, INT)
Forced Adjustments: 2
Explosive Plays (25+ yards and/or touchdown): 5
Nothing that happened on Friday should dissuade anyone from keeping Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence as the clear No.1 QB prospect in this class. Clemson may have lost in embarrassing fashion, but Lawrence himself still looked like a No.1 pick. It was the rest of the team — defense, offense, special teams, coaching staff, you name it — that fell apart around Lawrence.
A number of things went wrong, but pass protection was Clemson’s biggest issue on Friday. Lawrence was pressured on 15/46 qualifying drop backs, which comes out to a stunning 32.6%. While this game is a one-game sample and prone to more volatility, the average pressure rate among the 10 quarterbacks I charted last year was around 18%. Lawrence dealt with nearly double that against Ohio State, and even that may not do justice to how much pressure Lawrence was under.
It felt as if Lawrence was getting pressured just about every time he was not throwing quick game right off the top of his drop. No wonder Clemson was barely able to attempt deep passes that weren’t just 1-on-1 go balls.
For a while, Lawrence held up phenomenally well against the pressure. Lawrence was accurate on five-of-seven attempts under pressure through the first three quarters before the game really got out of hand. Those attempts included two explosive plays (25-plus yards), both of which were strikes towards the sideline while taking a hit from a pass-rusher.
Below is Lawrence’s first “wow” throw of the game. Clemson’s “slide” side of the protection (three players zone one side) ended up being the same side as where the back moved in pass protection. The back needed to scan inside-to-out, but failed to do so. Maybe he wasn’t sure on the protection call, who knows. But you can even see in his panicked movements after his first step that he’s made a mistake. In turn, rather than getting a hat on a hat like they could have, Clemson ended up with four blockers versus three rushers to the right, but only two blockers versus three rushers on the left.
Lawrence, sharp as he is, recognized the busted protection and took an extra step at the top of his drop to buy himself space. Lawrence knew he would be unable to step into this throw whatsoever, so he takes the next-best course of action: getting his hips open at all costs. He does a great job playing light with his lead (left) foot, only barely letting it tap off the ground as his hips are coming all the way around. Making sure the front foot stays off the ground as much as possible here ensures that his hips can swing all the way around and will not get locked up. That free range of motion allows Lawrence, who has an outrageous arm, to drop in a beautiful back shoulder ball while protecting himself from a dangerous hit.
Lawrence was not fortunate enough to avoid getting cracked on his other major sideline throw. With Clemson driving in the third quarter, Lawrence took a huge hit with his feet planted in the ground while ripping a deep out. Protecting himself was not an option on this play.
Lawrence was set on throwing the deep out from the start, which is generally how these formations with a lone wide receiver to each side works out. The QB picks his best matchup and lets it rip. Go back to some Mason Rudolph era Oklahoma State for plenty of examples of that. Anyway, Lawrence’s feet are locked in the ground when the pass-rusher breaks through and forces him to rush this throw. As expected of a No.1 pick, though, Lawrence rushes his process with some makeshift mechanics and lets this ball rip before the receiver has even made their route break.
Lawrence had to throw early and trust that this receiver would be open because the only other option at hand was to take a sack. The wide receiver ends up wide open, so this throw looks less spectacular, but the fact Lawrence even got the ball out the way he did is impressive.
Clemson’s signal-caller even flashes his athletic ability on a handful of those pressured plays. Lawrence moves exceptionally well for a quarterback his size, both in terms of short-area explosive and flexibility as well as raw speed. Once Lawrence gets to moving, he’s tough to just run down.
It’s tough to tell what exactly went wrong, but Lawrence begins his throwing motion at the top of his drop as if the outside receiver was going to run a speed out or flat route, just like the combination to the bottom of the screen. The receiver converts the route to a wheel-stop, however, and Lawrence is forced to holster the ball. Lawrence could have worked back to the stick routes over the middle, but seeing as how often he was getting pressured all day, he may have felt his internal clock running short and decided bailing to create some intentional chaos was the better move. Lawrence found no issue getting outside the widest pass-rusher and blazing right by him, giving himself plenty of space to find one of Clemson’s tight ends who worked themselves open on the scramble drill.
Unfortunately, the pressure did take a toll on Lawrence as the game went on. In the fourth quarter, Lawrence still threw accurately on five-of-eight passes versus pressure, but the misses were far more dangerous than before. Lawrence also got strip sacked a couple of times later in the game, which was partly a product of him trying to force plays to get the Tigers back into the game. To no surprise, Lawrence’s worst passes of the day was him trying to do just that.
Down 28 points in the fourth quarter, a quarterback has no option but to start forcing nonsense throws. Still, the following play looked about as bad as it could have. Before the snap, Ohio State shows a two-deep shell with a loaded line of scrimmage. Once Lawrence calls for the snap, one safety rolls down to handle the weak hook and other players fall off the line of scrimmage to play the weak flat and strong hook.
The strong hook player (#5, near left hash) takes away Lawrence’s first read, but he’s got nowhere else to go. Lawrence eliminated the weak #1 vs press coverage pre-snap, while the strong #1 takes too long getting open relative to Ohio State’s pass-rush as a result of the double-move. In a perfect world, maybe Lawrence wiggles around to find the checkdown to his left, but even that isn’t wide open or easy to get to given the pressure. Rather than take another sack, Lawrence tries to fit a hero ball, giving Ohio State’s deep safety a free chance at an interception that he ended up dropping.
That degree of pressure is what much of Lawrence’s evening looked like. Lawrence managing to make this offense as functional as it was despite relentless pressure, a run game that produced 52 yards on 12 carries (not including Lawrence’s runs), and an interim offensive coordinator is a sort of miracle. This blowout would have been much worse without the No.1 pick leading the Clemson offense.
Lawrence did what he could with what he had available to him against an Ohio State team that looked awakened. It was far from the best performance of Lawrence's illustrious career, but he was more than good enough to stave off any talk of someone else taking over as QB1. One blowout loss, in which Lawrence still played well, should not negate the rest of Lawrence's film and accomplishments to this point.