After throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns through Clemson’s first three games, Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence was the subject of questions about his accuracy and decision-making.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp would like a word or two with those detractors now.
“I’d like to talk to those people that said he wasn’t playing well early in the year,” said Muschamp, whose team will try to slow Lawrence and the third-ranked Tigers on Saturday in Columbia, S.C. “I can’t figure out exactly what they were talking about.”
Lawrence has indeed bounced back with a vengeance. In the past six games, the sophomore has completed 74.1 percent of his passes for 1,444 yards and 19 touchdowns while being intercepted only three times. He has thrown at least three touchdown passes in a school-record six consecutive games, and his streak of 111 passes without an interception is the second-longest active stretch in the country by a Power 5 quarterback.
“He’s got a big arm, can make all the throws,” Muschamp said. “I’m really impressed watching him. He’s very athletic and can hurt you with his legs, too.”
Containing Lawrence and his stable of rangy receivers will be a priority for the Gamecocks (4-7, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) when they play host to the Tigers (11-0, 8-0).
Lawrence and Clemson have won 26 consecutive games, the longest active winning streak among FBS teams. Clemson also is looking to cap a second straight 12-0 regular season and extend its winning streak to five in the series, which dates to 1896.
“This is our rival,” Muschamp said. “This is our biggest game of the season.”
That sentiment is shared by Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, who will be coaching in his 17th game in the rivalry.
“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have this feeling — this game is just different,” Swinney said. “There’s just a lot more juice to it. It’s awesome to be a part of it.”
While Lawrence is the trigger man in Clemson’s offense, junior running back Travis Etienne is the player who typically jump-starts the Tigers’ attack. He’s a 1,335-yard rusher who’s averaging a gaudy 8.73 yards per carry, which ranks No. 1 in the nation.
Clemson’s retooled defense, which lost the bulk of its talent from last season’s national championship team to the NFL, has matured quickly and ranks second nationally in both total defense and scoring defense.
However, the returnees in Clemson’s secondary haven’t forgotten last season’s game against South Carolina, when the Tigers won 56-35 but surrendered 600 yards passing.
“That was super embarrassing for us as a back seven,” Clemson safety Tanner Muse said. “We just can’t let something like that happen again. That’s just not who we are.”
Although his team is a heavy favorite, Swinney said the Tigers aren’t about to let their guard down with so much at stake.
“South Carolina is a team that went to Georgia and won,” Swinney said. “So nothing else matters. We’ve got to be the best team on Saturday.”
–Field Level Media