Freshman Trevor Lawrence is the new starting quarterback for third-ranked Clemson, replacing senior Kelly Bryant — for now.
The move doesn’t mean Bryant is being benched, or won’t regain the starting spot, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn’t saying much about the change.
The team announced the decision Monday, a day after Swinney cut off potential quarterback questions on a teleconference Sunday night.
“I won’t get into any rotation or depth chart moves tonight,” the coach said.
But actions often speak louder than words.
On Monday morning the team put out a simple statement saying that Lawrence will start for the Tigers (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) against Syracuse (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday.
Lawrence’s improvement and production, particularly in last week’s 49-21 victory at Georgia Tech, could not be ignored, according to Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott.
“It just came down to, you’ve got to reward productivity,” Elliott said. “If you look at (Lawrence’s) opportunities, he’s taken advantage of them. Kelly didn’t do anything wrong.”
Elliott cautioned that Lawrence’s elevation is just for this week and the competition with Bryant for playing time will continue.
“Kelly has done a lot for this team,” Elliott said. “Again, this is just this week.”
The 6-foot-6 Lawrence — nicknamed “Sunshine” by his teammates for his long, flowing hair — was the country’s top quarterback prospect this past year. He enrolled in January, went through spring drills and competed with Bryant throughout the offseason for the starting spot.
Bryant came out on top to start the season, though, as Lawrence played all four games as the second QB in Clemson’s two-player rotation.
But Lawrence has been the most effective of the two since the season started.
He completed 13 of 18 passes for 176 yards and a career-high four touchdown throws to rally the Tigers offense after a slow start with Bryant behind center.
Lawrence led Clemson on four TD drives in a five-series span in the second and third quarters as the team took control of the Yellow Jackets. He was named the ACC’s rookie of the week.
Statistically, Lawrence has outplayed Bryant.
Lawrence has completed 39 of 60 passes for 600 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Bryant has thrown for 461 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in four games.
Bryant was in the unenviable spot last year of having to follow Clemson’s national championship winning quarterback in Deshaun Watson as the starter.
However, Bryant rose to the challenge and helped Clemson to a 12-2 mark and a third consecutive ACC championship and College Football Playoff appearance. The Tigers lone loss in the regular season at Syracuse in 2017 came in part when Bryant was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the second quarter.
When the Tigers’ offense struggled in the CFP semifinals against eventual national champ Alabama in a 24-6 loss, many outside the program latched onto Lawrence as the program’s future.
The offense — and especially Clemson’s long-ball game — has been much crisper with Lawrence in the game. Six of Lawrence’s nine touchdown throws have gone for 15 yards or longer.
Center Justin Falcinelli said Bryant is an experienced player who won’t let this keep him down.
“Kelly will take it fine. He knows how we do things,” Falcinelli said. “He knows what to expect.”
Still, it appears Lawrence is on a similar path as Watson, who began his freshman season as backup but became the starter by game four.
Syracuse coach Dino Babers learned of Clemson’s quarterback change when he spoke to the media Monday.
Lawrence “seems like he’s a very polished thrower. Obviously, he’s young,” Babers said. “It’ll be interesting to see how he does.”
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