Clemson freshman Lawrence shows he's football's future with title performance

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The throw left Trevor Lawrence’s hand at the Clemson 12-yard line in the first quarter of the College Football Playoff title game on Monday night. It landed in receiver Tee Higgins’ hands on the Alabama 45-yard line, the first dazzling completion for Lawrence on a night defined by them.

But it wasn’t just the pass to Higgins that left jaws agape, NFL front offices drooling and the Alabama defense backfield shredded. It was the way the ball left his hand – as if it were shot out of a laser gun, whistling 43 yards with barely any arc and somehow managing to arrive softly into Higgins’ hands. It was a throw that few college quarterbacks can make. It was a throw few NFL quarterbacks can make. And it was the first sign of an arrival for the ages.

The sun has officially risen on Sunshine’s career, as Lawrence’s golden locks will frame the face of college football for the next two seasons. At age 19, after just 11 college starts, Lawrence is showing the promise of a generational talent at the college level and a transcendent prospect at the next level. “He looks like an NFL quarterback,” texted one scout on Monday night, “right now.”

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Alabama vs. Clemson: College Football Playoff Championship Game
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Alabama vs. Clemson: College Football Playoff Championship Game
Clemson's K'Von Wallace stops Alabama's Irv Smith Jr. during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Clemson's Justyn Ross makes a one-handed catch in front of Alabama's Josh Jobe during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Clemson's A.J. Terrell intercepts a pass for a touchdown during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Clemson's Justyn Ross celebrates his touchdown catch during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Jonah Williams (73) and the offense walk off the field dejected during the Alabama Crimson Tide's game versus the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff National Championship game on January 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) rolls out to pass during the Alabama Crimson Tide's game versus the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff National Championship game on January 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 07: Justyn Ross #8 of the Clemson Tigers falls to the ground after making catch against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the third quarter in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Levi's Stadium on January 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Tee Higgins #5 of the Clemson Tigers makes a third quarter touchdown catch against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Tee Higgins #5 of the Clemson Tigers makes a catch against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 07: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers throws a pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the third quarter in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Levi's Stadium on January 07, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Josh Jacobs #8 of the Alabama Crimson Tide carries the ball against the Clemson Tigers in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney reacts after his defense held on a fourth down play during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Clemson's Tre Lamar stops Alabama's Josh Jacobs during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Clemson's Justyn Ross catches a touchdown pass during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Alabama's DeVonta Smith recovers his own fumble during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Clemson's Trevor Lawrence throws while being rushed by Alabama's Anfernee Jennings during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Offensive coordinator Jeff Scott has gatorade dumped on him by J.D. Davis #33 of the Clemson Tigers after their 44-16 win over Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Clemson Tigers wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) celebrates after a 5 yard touchdown catch during the second half of the Alabama Crimson Tide's game versus the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff National Championship game on January 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Sean Pollard #76 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates his teams 44-16 win over the Alabama Crimson Tidein the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers celebrates with his team late in the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers celebrates with his team late in the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers celebrates with his team late in the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers reacts after his teams 44-16 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The scariest part of No. 2 Clemson’s dominating 44-16 blowout over No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff title game is that Lawrence has two years remaining before he can enter the NFL draft. Trevor Lawrence would likely be the No. 1 pick in this NFL draft, as he’s that rare of specimen, that caliber of arm talent and that poised. This is merely the beginning of something truly special at Clemson.

Lawrence is the first true freshman quarterback to start and win a title game since 1985 when Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway did it. And that once-a-generation moment is the proper prism to ponder his potential through.

We’re looking at a no-brainer All-Pro of the Andrew Luck variety. Lawrence has the size at 6-foot-6, and his reed-like 215-pound frame can still afford at least 20 more pounds of muscle. He’s not perfect, as opposing coaches have said he still needs to evolve from his half-field reads. But there’s a tantalizing talent and package that’s rare, deserving of every morsel of hyperbole destined to fly his way.

“He’s a great face for college football,” Clemson president James Clements told Yahoo Sports. “I’m thrilled he’s the face of our university.”

Lawrence overcame some jitters on the first two possessions to finish the night 20-for-32 passing for 347 yards and three touchdowns. Perhaps most indicative of his fearless night was that Clemson finished 10-for-14 on third downs, as he came up with timely completion after timely completion. He won the Offensive MVP of the title game on Monday night, a high bar to set this early in his career.

Peeking ahead, it’s almost unfair that the most talented quarterback in college football in a decade has the most decadent skill players in the game. Essentially every relevant skill player on Clemson returns next season, minus cult-hero receiver Hunter Renfrow.

Higgins finished the night with three catches for 81 yards, including a touchdown that may have been Lawrence’s most gutsy throw of the night. He whizzed a 5-yard laser over two defenders, which made the game 44-16 late in the third quarter.

Then there was Justyn Ross, hauling in a one-handed ball on the sideline that made Odell Beckham jealous. Ross had six catches for 153 yards, a touchdown of his own and had NFL scouts giddy at the possibility of the duo the next two seasons. “That combo,” said another NFL scout, “is going to be fun to watch. Ross looks legit.”

Lawrence himself was so impressed with Ross’ effort on the night that he thought the receiver deserved to be named the game’s Offensive MVP award.

Both Higgins and Ross are 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and are underclassmen. Higgins is a true sophomore and Ross a true freshman, meaning that Lawrence will be passing to the most dynamic duo in college football next season. Sophomore tailback Travis Etienne is an elite tailback who got some Heisman buzz earlier this season and rushed for more than 1,500 yards this season and will only improve.

With the dominance of its victory and the dazzle of its skill, Clemson made a statement that it’s poised to sit atop college football the next two seasons.

And for those who already worry about Clemson fatigue, consider this: The top quarterback in the 2020 high school class was in the stands tonight. DJ Uiagalelei is a rising senior at Bosco High School in Southern California. He’s favored to attend Clemson.

 

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