All-America Watch: Clemson QB Lawrence back in top form

Sports

Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (16) looks to throw the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Praise him or criticize him, Trevor Lawrence doesn’t care. Not as long as the quarterback keeps improving and No. 3 Clemson keeps winning.

Lawrence and the Tigers have done plenty of both this season.

“I really like the way we’re playing,” Lawrence said with a smile Monday.

Lawrence came into the season the potential face of college football, fresh off a dominating show where he riddled Alabama in Clemson’s 44-16 national championship victory in January. Several analysts even suggested Lawrence withdraw from school and spend the next two years prepping for his inevitable selection as the NFL’s No. 1 pick.

Instead, Lawrence vowed to work hard and came into the season as the first-team QB on The Associated Press All-America team presented by Regions Bank, a sure-fire favorite for the Heisman Trophy.

But the 6-foot-6 sophomore slumped early. Lawrence threw just four interceptions in his 15-0 freshman season, but he had five in his first five games this year. He struggled in Clemson’s low point of the season, a 21-20 escape at North Carolina on Sept. 28 that grabbed everyone’s attention for all the wrong reasons from Clemson’s point of view.

Lawrence’s health was questioned, his mechanics picked apart. Critics questioned the 19-year-old’s ability to make the right decisions.

Take a look at Lawrence now.

Lawrence marked his 20th birthday in early October and got right back to looking every part the Crimson Tide slayer he was in January, his accuracy and talent on full display.

Over the past five games, he has thrown for 15 touchdowns, 1,172 yards and just three picks. Clemson’s winning streak is now up to 25 games as it tries for a second straight perfect Atlantic Coast Conference season when it faces Wake Forest (7-2, 3-2 ACC) on Saturday.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Lawrence has the same knack for following poor plays with big ones that Deshaun Watson had. Watson threw 17 interceptions during his last season with the Tigers, which ended with the 2016 national title.

“Deshaun made some bad plays, too, but how did he respond?” Swinney said. “He always was going to make the next play. And that’s how Trevor is. He’s the exact same. He doesn’t go in a shell. He doesn’t pout. He just responds.”

Swinny and the coaching staff have become used to Lawrence’s steadiness in almost every situation. Swinney said Lawrence is continually soaking up lessons to make himself a better teammate and player for the Tigers (10-0, 7-0, No. 5 CFP).

Lawrence said he believes the offensive is playing at a higher level than a year ago because younger players like himself, tailback Travis Etienne and receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins are another year more accomplished in the game.

“We’re in the same spot,” Lawrence said. “But I believe we’re a little bit better because of continuity, the guys have been playing together longer.”

Now, about that hair. Lawrence’s long locks have led to memes and gentle mocking, even from his teammates. Last year’s All-American defensive tackle, Christian Wilkins, joked about taking “a pretty girl” out for breakfast (it was Lawrence) while offensive lineman John Simpson came to ACC media days last summer in a long, blonde wig.

While Lawrence appears steady and calm, safety K’Von Wallace said he has emotions his teammates see all the time.

“He’s a human being,” Wallace said. “He laughs and plays jokes just like all of us. … It just so happens that God blessed him to be 6-6 and the best quarterback in the country.”

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