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NEW ORLEANS – Trevor Lawrence slouched down on the chair in front of his orange locker, soaked in sweat and awash with a new sensation. He sat below a shelf with a perspiring sugar-free Red Bull, an Uncrustable wrapper and an empty Gatorade.
Around him were the typical trappings of a losing room – wads of tape, smudged eye-black and deep exhales. The squeak of the locker-room door drowned out Lawrence’s words as he attempted to articulate his first collegiate loss.
“It sucks,” he said multiple times.
Trevor Lawrence still has one season remaining in which he projects to be the darling of college football. His blond locks, cannon arm and measured tone will all be on display again for Clemson in 2020.
But amid the suffocating quiet of his first football loss since November 2017 – his senior year of high school – Lawrence began sorting out his feelings for the first time after losing in college.
“It sucks not having another one with them,” Lawrence said of the seniors and players heading out early for the NFL draft. “I think just the biggest thing is perspective. After all this, it’s just a game. We’ll bounce back.”
Clemson’s 29-game win streak came to a jarring halt after the 42-25 loss to LSU, and Lawrence suffered his first loss as a starting quarterback. His starting record fell to 25-1. Lawrence will be a true junior next season before he continues his seemingly predestined place as the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
For Lawrence, the Clemson coaches and players, a quiet confidence cut through all the shock and emotion: “We’ll be back next year,” Lawrence said.
But as midnight passed on Monday and Lawrence sat in full uniform, his hair resting on his shoulder pads, he looked more like the face of frustration than that of the sport. Lawrence alternately bemoaned missed opportunities – forced passes, poor accuracy and missed vertical routes – while praising LSU.
“It was not a good night to have a bad night,” he said, “and I had a bad night tonight.”
The quarterback duel between Lawrence and Joe Burrow that we’re destined to see unfold again in the NFL was lopsided on Monday night. Burrow threw five touchdowns and ran for another, all while compiling 463 passing yards and 58 rushing yards. He finished the night 31-of-49, including 221 passing yards to star receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
Lawrence started the game in rhythm, leading Clemson to scores on three of its first six drives and building a 10-point lead in the second quarter. But Clemson’s season ended with a stunning offensive disappearance. The Tigers went scoreless on their final five drives – four punts and one fumble – as the game got out of hand. Lawrence finished 18-of-37 passing for 234 yards.
“Their offense is really special and Joe had a great year,” Lawrence said. “He deserved it and Joe deserved it and that team deserved it. They were the better team tonight.”
Will LSU be back next year? The departure of Burrow certainly will lead to huge questions. The biggest X-factor is the potential absence of Joe Brady, the gifted passing-game coordinator who is expected to decide soon between staying and listening to overtures in the NFL.
Clemson is a smart pick for 2020 preseason No. 1. Coach Dabo Swinney stressed that they had 80 freshman and sophomores, young players who grew up knowing only victory until tonight.
“We won 29 games in a row, and sooner or later you're going to lose one,” Swinney said. “This certainly wasn't the one we wanted to lose, but I know how we'll respond. We'll get back to work.”
The last time Clemson lost a game came nearly two years ago in this building, a 24-6 loss to Alabama that helped set the program on the course for the 29-game win streak and 2018 national title. Can another loss at the Superdome prove a springboard?
“I’m going to be driven whether we won or lost,” Lawrence said. “But, really, just the opportunity to make it back here and have a different outcome. It just sucks when you put so much into it like this group has and you fall a little bit short.”
After Lawrence’s fumble on Clemson’s final drive, Swinney pulled him aside on the sideline and offered a simple message that doubled as a prediction.
“He told me he loved me and told me the things we’ve been able to accomplish the last two years have been awesome,” Lawrence said. “This one game doesn’t define me and we’ll be back.”
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