What Will Clemson's Offense Look Like Without Lawrence?
The news of Trevor Lawrence testing positive for COVID-19 and missing Saturday's noon game against Boston College does more than just change who takes snaps behind the center.
It also alters No. 1 Clemson's game plan, at least to a certain degree. Lawrence has posted Heisman Trophy-winning numbers this season: 1,883 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, two interceptions and 70.7 percent completion percentage.
Meanwhile, the presumed starter, freshman D.J. Uiagalelei, has thrown 19 passes in his collegiate career. He's completed 12 of those for an average of 5.4 yards per attempt and no touchdowns through the air. Uiagalelei does have two rushing TDs, which came against The Citadel, so he's never scored against an FBS team.
Still, no one should feel bad for the Tigers, who are replacing an elite prospect with another elite prospect. But it does make you wonder what the offense will look like. Clemson hasn't had a backup QB not named Lawrence when he took over for Kelly Bryant in 2018 to start a game since Deshaun Watson was hurt in 2014.
How the game plan changes, where the focus goes and who steps up will be critical to how this game against Boston College goes. While the Tigers are still more than a three-touchdown favorite, they won't take that for granted with a true freshman at signal-caller.
Here are some options of what the offense could look like with Uiagalelei at the helm:
Run-pass option: Earlier this week, AllClemson took a look at Lawrence's ability to successfully run the RPO. He analyzes it as well as anybody, and while Uiagalelei has to prove he can handle the mental part of that, there's little disbelief that he can't handle it physically.
At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, he's a boulder rolling downhill with the ball in his hands. While it's still unclear what he can do passing-wise at this level, everyone, including BC, knows he can run. And between he and Travis Etienne, who's about to be the all-time leading rusher in ACC history, that should keep the Eagles guessing about who's going to carry it, even against stacked boxes.
Shot taking: You should definitely expect BC to put a ton of defenders at the line of scrimmage to stop Etienne and Uiagalelei. Teams have been doing that with Lawrence in the game anyway. Now, they'll be begging Uiagalelei to prove he can beat them deep. If he can, the defense will have to respect it and loosen up. If not, Clemson could be beating its head into a brick wall.
Regardless, coaches will challenge the offensive line to play its best game of the season and give the young QB a chance to make plays with his arm or legs. If he does, the Tigers will be fine and the offense will cruise in an easy win.
Get comfortable: This one is easy. Call some short passes early in the game. Let Uiagalelei complete some easy screens to receivers and tight ends. Work the middle of the field with Amari Rodgers. Get Uiagalelei in a rhythm and then start to open up the offense to see what he can really do.
This will also keep BC guessing about what's coming next and allow offensive coordinator Tony Elliott to get a good feel for what the Eagles want to do.
Trickeration: This is the best part. There's no doubt that Clemson has some tricks in the bag the coaches have yet to expose. Remember last year when Dabo Swinney was tired of his offense not being aggressive out of the gate, so he threw a bomb on the first play of the game followed by an Etienne half-back pass on the second play?
Jet sweeps, odd formations, defensive players in the Wildcat or lined up in the backfield, it's all on the table to spark the offense if needed. However, expect it in moderation and when BC least expects it.