What was the biggest play for Clemson on Saturday night in the Fiesta Bowl?
Ask 10 people that question, you might get 10 different responses. It was that kind of game.
And the thing is, there really is no wrong answer.
But think about what Trevor Lawrence’s improbable 67-yard touchdown run meant.
Not only was it a huge play, one that meant Clemson went into the locker room at halftime down just two points after trailing 16-0 in the first 23 minutes of the game, but it was also something he hadn’t been done before. Lawrence’s career-long rush wasn’t a mad dash against a field void of defenders. He showed some moves.
On second-and-10 with about with 1:22 before the half, he took off through a running lane in the middle of the field. Then, right around the first-down line, he juked out a safety and darted to his left, where he picked up a couple key blocks before he out-ran NFL prospect and linebacker Baron Browning, among others, down the sideline to the end zone.
“He just ran a 67-yard touchdown against Ohio State and ran away from them, so I don’t know what else you need to say about that,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “They’ve got a bunch of dudes that can run on that defense.”
Now that’s something that will stand out on film to national championship game opponent LSU—and be shown in every one of his 2021 NFL draft highlight packages.
“Kind of had that play, or those couple of plays, in our back pocket that we didn't use for a while,” said Lawrence, who’s third on the team in rushing with 514 yards. “Then we got the opportunity. It was wide open and just credit to the guys up front just being patient, making those lanes for me, and then just making plays.”
Look at what’s happened over the course of the last few games and it’s apparent: Lawrence’s legs aren’t just good for keeping defenses honest—he’s become a true weapon with his ground game.
Against an offense that already has teams worried about Lawrence’s arm, running back Travis Etienne and receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, now opponents have to game plan for the QB run.
Swinney will be the first to tell you Lawrence can run. He’s been saying that since the 6-foot-6 Georgia native arrived on campus.
And yes, Lawrence showed a little of that ability a year ago as more of a scrambler. His game-high as a freshman was 42 yards against South Carolina in 2018.
In 2019, Lawrence has equaled or eclipsed that rushing mark in seven games, including a career-high 107 yards against Ohio State.
During Clemson’s “championship phase,” Lawrence put up 59 yards on NC State, 66 against South Carolina and 24 against Virginia in limited action of all three games.
Swinney said before the season the top priority for Lawrence was being more productive with his legs, both on designed runs and being creative to extend plays.
Lawrence said he worked on getting bigger, stronger and faster, and he’s also learned the art of patience and knowing when the lanes are there.
It’s hard to think a defense needs to spy this QB, especially when he can beat you with his arm, but you can make a legitimate case for it.
“He’s really made a lot of big plays with his legs, scrambling around, extending plays, and then also just running it when he needed to,” Swinney said.
Lawrence isn’t quite Deshaun Watson, who rushed for 1,105 as a sophomore in 2015 and 629 yards in 2016, but he’s far from a statue. He’s a real threat, even if he doesn’t know what his 40-yard dash time is, which he confirmed Monday.
“This man can flat-out run,” college football analyst Desmond Howard said on ESPN on Monday. “They’re not afraid to run Trevor Lawrence. He’s going to be a problem for (LSU defensive coordinator) Dave Aranda’s defense, even with how athletic they are.”
Howard is right on both accounts; LSU has more athletic linebackers than Ohio State, but the SEC Tigers were gashed by Ole Miss QB John Rhys Plumlee’s 212 rushing yards on Nov. 16.
Lawrence might not be quite that prolific as a runner, but he may not have to be, either.
Just knowing he can hit a home run with his legs is one more thing for LSU to prepare for in the Jan. 13 showdown in New Orleans.
“He’s as confident in his legs as he is his arm, and he’s grown into that, but he can move,” Swinney said. “He can flat-out move.”