Two years ago, with his team’s offense struggling in the second quarter at Georgia Tech, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney sent a freshman quarterback into the game. Four touchdown passes later the Tigers had claimed a 49-21 victory and the rest is history.
One day later, Trevor Lawrence was named the team’s starting quarterback and the Tigers are 29-1 since then, with a national championship and two ACC titles to their credit. And this season, Lawrence is the favorite for the 2020 Heisman Trophy while leading the No. 1 team in college football.
“It was a tough bus ride home for me because I knew it was going to be a tough conversation (with incumbent quarterback Kelly Bryant),” Swinney said. “But that’s my job, and I knew it was the right thing to do for the team.
“Trevor’s an amazing player and he was just clearly the best guy. What he’s done since then is incredible.”
Lawrence, who played high school ball just outside of Atlanta, returns with the Tigers to Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday. It will likely be his final game as a collegian in his home state, when No. 1 Clemson (4-0, 3-0 ACC) faces Georgia Tech (2-2, 2-1).
The game marks the first time that Georgia Tech will host the nation’s top-ranked team since Nov. 8, 1980, when the Yellow Jackets battled No. 1 Notre Dame to a 3-3 tie.
“We’re excited to play such a big-time opponent,” second-year Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins said. “The margin for error against such great players and coaches is very thin.”
Particularly when two of the players are Lawrence and backfield mate Travis Etienne, the two-time reigning ACC Player of the Year.
“They obviously are two of the elite players in all of college football,” Collins said. “So, we understand the work we’ve got cut out for us, not only in the passing game but in the running game.”
While Lawrence has 10 touchdown passes and has thrown 355 passes without an interception — the second-longest streak in ACC history — Etienne has emerged as another key option in the passing game for Lawrence. In the past two games, Etienne has 13 receptions for 187 yards.
Georgia Tech could provide some challenges, however. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a decisive 46-27 victory against Louisville, which even their record at 2-2 and moved them within one victory of matching last season’s total.
Freshman quarterback Jeff Sims passed for 249 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 64 more and another score against Louisville as the Yellow Jackets rallied from a 21-7 deficit.
“He’s a good one,” Swinney said. “He’s big, he’s athletic, got a really good arm. He’s their leading rusher and he’s not afraid to push the ball down the field.
“He’s just a guy who’s going to get better and better. He can make any throw. He’s got a bright future. He’s a guy we’ve got to do a great job of containing.”
Clemson is attempting to win a 26th consecutive game against ACC opponents, as well as extending its winning streak in regular-season games to 34 in a row, which already is the longest streak in ACC history.
“Their roster is filled with great players,” Collins said. “You look at their personnel on both sides of the ball and they’ve got great players all across the roster. We know we’ve got a big challenge.”