Yet another quarterback from Georgia leads Clemson into playoffs

The model is sound and proven: Hijack the best quarterback from Georgia, slip him across Lake Hartwell just into South Carolina and then let Dabo Swinney take him from there.

Such interstate acquisition of arm talent is a Clemson tradition, just like the now standing invitation to the college football playoff. Think those two might be somewhat related?

First it was Gainesville’s Deshaun Watson crossing over to Clemson and delivering the Tigers the 2016 national championship after a 35-year drought. Now it’s the player who broke Watson’s state high school career passing yardage record, a mere freshman from Cartersville, who is running the huddle during the Tigers fourth straight journey to football’s final four.

Trevor Lawrence – the dude with the flowing mane and the jaw line that could cut glass – has more in common with Watson than a home state. More than you might imagine.

Musing on the comparison, guard John Simpson said, “I want to say Deshaun can run a little bit more but that’s not true – Trevor’s got some wheels on him (he’s netted 151 rushing yards).

“I don’t know, maybe there’s no difference. They are both really great quarterbacks.”

“He’s similar, only a little quieter (than Watson),” said senior tackle Mitch Hyatt, another Georgia import, from Suwanee. “It was fun to have the opportunity to play with Deshaun, fun to be a part of two great quarterbacks.”

When asked how much he feels the burden to measure up to Watson, Lawrence quietly says, “Obviously every guy’s different, every team’s different. I don’t really measure myself against him. I measure myself against what I think is my best.

“How (Watson) did things, his legacy, how he went about his business is something I looked up to. He won a national championship, that’s one of my goals for sure. It’s something to look up to and chase after, that’s for sure.”

That the Tigers are unbeaten as they head into Saturday’s semifinal against likewise unbeaten Notre Dame is certainly not all the quarterback’s doing. Not with Clemson’s NFL-ready defensive line and its ACC Player of the Year, running back Travis Etienne. More precisely, you can point solely to the quarterback and credit him with not being the undoing of Clemson.

There was a quite ticklish situation behind center to start this season for the No. 2-ranked Tigers. The incumbent quarterback Kelly Bryant, who had taken them to the playoffs last year, had started – and won – the season’s first four games. But a change was in the air when Lawrence subbed in for Bryant early against Georgia Tech and threw four touchdown passes. Lawrence was named the starter the next week against Syracuse and Bryant soon thereafter announced he was very unhappy and would transfer out of Clemson.

That Syracuse game was a big scare – Lawrence leaving with a head injury in the second quarter and the Tigers barely surviving. But you could say the team rallied around the new guy since then. Clemson’s won the eight games following Syracuse by an average margin of 38 points. The offense is churning out more yards (530) and points (45) per game than any time during the 10-year Swinney Era.

Lawrence’s contribution: He has completed 212 of his 327 passes for 2,606 yards, 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He ranks 19th in the NCAA pass efficiency rating, which is lowest among the four quarterbacks still standing in the playoffs. Ahead of him are Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray (1st in efficiency rating), Alabama’s injured Tua Tagovailoa (2nd) and Notre Dame’s Ian Book (8th).

It’s not like the nation’s top recruit at quarterback is, or should be, totally surprised to be in this position so soon since leaving Cartersville.

“It wasn’t like I was coming in expecting to redshirt and wait until next year,” Lawrence said last week. “I wanted this and feel that I’ve earned this. This team has earned the right to be here. I’m proud of how we’ve handled (the mid-season change at quarterback).”

He was at the Army All American game last year watching Clemson lose to Alabama in their semi, and already “kind of envisioning the next year when I’d be there, having that same opportunity.”

“I believed I could be in this situation. I didn’t know how it would happen, it didn’t happen probably the way I thought it would. Yeah, I believed I could do this.”

During last week’s big media gathering at Clemson, wave after wave of questioners tried to burrow between Lawrence’s ears, talking about all the pressure of the playoffs and how a mere 19-year-old might be expected to handle it.

For the dozen times he was asked about how he would respond to this big game (or games) – inexperienced in the ways of the playoff, unlike so many of his teammates – Lawrence had 12 answers roughly the same.

Every game is a big game here. Preparation is the antidote to pressure. I’ll be a little nervous before the game, but then settle in.

“He’s ready,” said one of those Tigers who have seen it all, senior receiver Hunter Renfro. “There is not a worry in the world about Trevor. He’s special. He’s different.

“You could just tell from the day he got here. He has grown some, but he was very grown when he got here. He was mentally strong. He knew what to expect. He was never overwhelmed by the moment and that’s what you want to see in a quarterback.”

They are still waiting in these parts to see what unsettles the guy. “I know when things get difficult, Trevor says, OK, guys we got this. Why y’all’s heads down?” said Simpson. “He’s chill all the time.”

Should Lawrence require any buoying of his own, the support system behind him includes all kinds of postseason-savvy Clemson players, both current and past.

He’s had a couple conversations with Watson, who’s off attending to the Houston Texans’ upcoming postseason run. He’s not sure if another talk is coming.

But already the teacher has imparted to his fellow young Georgian some advice that will keep for the Cotton Bowl.

Remembering a call from Watson before the game with rival South Carolina, Lawrence said, “He told me, the moment’s not bigger than you.

“And just play your game and you’ll be fine.”