With just under two minutes left in their 29-23 Fiesta Bowl win over No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday night, Trevor Lawrence and the No. 3 Clemson Tigers proved exactly why they can’t be counted out of their upcoming CFP championship game matchup with top-ranked LSU.
Backs against the wall, trailing No. 2 Ohio State by two with less than two minutes left, Lawrence capped off a game-winning, four-play, 94-yard drive with a Tim Tebow-like fake-run-and-pass to Travis Etienne for a 34-yard touchdown.
It was a signature play for the sophomore sensation, seeking to become the first starting quarterback to win back-to-back national titles since Alabama’s AJ McCarron in 2011-12. It was a gut-check moment – Lawrence’s second of the game (more on that later) – and one that could go down as defining a season.
Granted, LSU’s Joe Burrow had about eight signature plays on Saturday night in the Tigers’ Peach Bowl slaughter of Oklahoma.
And that’s exactly what the big game will be about. Prolific vs. precision. Scoring burst vs. been there first. Ed O vs. Dabo.
On one sideline, Burrow, the Heisman winner, looking to cap perhaps the greatest season of all time, coming off perhaps the greatest bowl performance of all time. On the other, Lawrence, entering the game with almost 1,900 fewer passing yards and 19 fewer passing touchdowns, but one giant trump card.
And that trump card – the simple fact that Lawrence has faced a similar test before, and passed it, as a true freshman, no less – is why my money is on Lawrence and Swinney.
“It’s our 29thwin in a row; we scored 29 points, and we didn’t do anything tonight we already didn’t know,” Swinney said on the podium while receiving the Fiesta Bowl trophy after the comeback win over the Buckeyes. “Unbelievable character and heart and a will to win. That’s the one thing I told them – they can prepare for what we do but not who we are. Our heart would win out in the end.”
Lawrence showed his heart on Saturday, particularly late in the second quarter with the Tigers trailing the Buckeyes, 16-0.
All year long, the doubters said Clemson never played any good teams, and for the first 25 minutes against the No. 2 team in the land, the Tigers were pushed around. Clemson had faced just two top-25 teams, and it was showing.
On a 3rd-and-5 with 4:47 left in the half, the Buckeyes’ brute force was on display in a vicious takedown of Lawrence by cornerback Shaun Wade. Lawrence lay on the ground after the punishing hit, for which Wade received a personal foul penalty and was kicked out of the game, and the Clemson quarterback went to the sideline for one play.
Lawrence didn’t just look woozy – so too did the Tigers’ chances, even when Clemson capped the drive soon after with a Travis Etienne touchdown.
But after forcing a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Lawrence showed why LSU has room for worry. On 2nd-and-10 from the Clemson 33-yard line, the dual threat star bolted for a 67-yard touchdown to cut Ohio State’s lead to two, 16-14.
It was yet another example of Lawrence’s unique skill set, and it would have been his defining play on Saturday, if not for his late-game heroics.
“We didn’t play great, it didn’t look pretty, we just found a way to get it done,” he said on the field after the game. “I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”
He probably couldn’t, either. The Tigers are officially a dynasty, marching into their fourth CFP championship game in five years. The last two times, 2016 and 2018, they were the lower-ranked team. Both times, they won.
And on the other side, Ed Orgeron and the LSU Tigers, certainly one of college football’s great programs, but newcomers on the CFP scene.
The last time LSU played a game with this kind of magnitude? The 2012 BCS National Championship game. They were the No. 1 seed that day, facing No. 2 Alabama. And what happened?
Alabama 21, LSU 0.
The Crimson Tide, remember, had been there before.
So has Clemson. So has Lawrence.
“We got tested,” Lawrence said after the game, a big smile across his face. “I think we passed. We’ve got one more left.”
By Jon Gold