Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence is part of a young wave of quarterbacks transforming college football.
Florida State’s defense will be tested by Lawrence, one of college football’s rising stars who isn’t slowed by his youth or inexperience. The Johnson City, Tenn., native is the best quarterback the Seminoles have faced so far this season.
FSU defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said the Seminoles can’t get too focused on a quarterback’s age.
“Guys are playing a lot earlier than in the past,” Barnett said. “But hey, you’ve got to roll with the punches and go with the times and have guys ready to play. Not just because they’re young guys, but they’re talented enough, they’re the best guys and they should be playing.”
What has Clemson’s best guy done since becoming a Tiger?
In seven games, Lawrence is 95-of-139 passing for 1,176 yards while averaging 8.5 yards per throw.
He ranks 10th in passing efficiency (165) behind Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (238.8), West Virginia’s Will Grier (185.8), Georgia’s Jake Fromm (170.4) and Notre Dame’s Ian Book (167.9).
Lawrence also is one of two true freshman quarterbacks in the top 20 in completion percentage.
The young Clemson quarterback is producing numbers comparable to those with two to five years of college experience.
“He’s the real deal,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said of Lawrence. “The kid can make all the throws. You can see what everyone was talking about when they talk about Trevor. He’s a heck of a talent. He’s a really good football player.
“You’ve got to get to him. I think that’s the only way you beat guys like that. You’ve got to get to him so he can’t make all the throws that he’s capable of making.”
Florida State’s experienced defensive line led by junior Brian Burns and redshirt senior Demarcus Christmas are strong pass rush threats who could put pressure on Lawrence.
The Seminoles will need their defensive backs to feed off of pre-snap read decisions that Lawrence might tip off.
“Pre-snap is always big. Just understanding what they like to do in certain situations,” Barnett said when asked about the defensive backs. “Not only your particular receiver, but the offense in itself. What are they trying to get accomplished?”
Lawrence has not held the full-time starting quarterback position long. The Tigers started the season with Kelly Bryant at the helm and deferred to Lawrence in Week 5 against Syracuse. He left the game before halftime with an injury and would not return.
Wake Forest and NC State have been Lawrence’s closest taste to a complete game, though he was removed early because Clemson was blowing out both teams.
A hostile environment at Doak Campbell Stadium could frazzle the young quarterback and force him to run the ball. He averages just 1.33 yards per carry.
“Not having as mobile of a quarterback, we don’t really have to worry about the aspect of the quarterback run and stuff like that,” FSU defensive tackle Cory Durden said of Lawrence. “That’s a lot easier because a mobile quarterback is obviously a whole other thing.”
Florida State entered the Miami game as an underdog and came close to the upset.
The Seminoles will enter Saturday in the same role. They hope to defy expectations by forcing turnovers, pressuring the Tigers’ freshman quarterback and making positive plays on special teams.
FSU sacked redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry five times and kept Miami from holding a lead until the fourth quarter.
Playing with the kind of energy and passion that the Seminoles mustered against Miami would bode against Lawrence and the Tigers.
“He has some talented receivers out there and again you see when he’s in there, their offense becomes a lot more explosive now,” Taggart said. “So big challenge for our defense.
“Best quarterback they have faced this season, and I know that they will be up for it.”