Trevor Lawrence, No. 1 Clemson Survive North Carolina's Upset Bid in 21-20 Win

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2019

Clemson's Travis Etienne (9) celebrates his touchdown with Trevor Lawrence (16) and Tee Higgins (5) during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)
Chris Seward/Associated Press

The defending national champion Clemson Tigers escaped Kenan Memorial Stadium with a 21-20 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels.

After looking sluggish on offense in the season's first four games, the Tigers were pushed to the limit Saturday. They extended their winning streak to 20 games, but it seems clear head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff have a lot to fix if they want to repeat as champions.

North Carolina cut the deficit to one point with 1:17 remaining when head coach Mack Brown went for two and the win. The Tigers defense stuffed quarterback Sam Howell at the 3-yard line on an option run, however.

         

Notable Game Stats

  • QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson): 18-of-30, 206 yards, one touchdown; 11 carries, 45 yards, one touchdown
  • QB Sam Howell (North Carolina): 15-of-27, 144 yards, two touchdowns
  • RB Travis Etienne (Clemson): 14 carries, 67 yards, one touchdown
  • RB Michael Carter (North Carolina): 16 carries, 99 yards
  • RB Javonte Williams (North Carolina): 10 carries, 49 yards, one touchdown; two receptions, 35 yards
  • WR Tee Higgins (Clemson): six receptions, 129 yards, one touchdown
  • WR Dyami Brown (North Carolina): three receptions, 63 yards, one touchdown

Lawrence's Inconsistent Play Leaves Tigers Vulnerable

When this season started, it was reasonable to expect Lawrence would at least be in the Heisman Trophy conversation by this point.

He was coming off an incredible true freshman campaign in 2018 with 3,280 yards passing and 30 touchdowns, and he led the Tigers offense to a combined 74 points in the College Football Playoff against Notre Dame and Alabama en route to winning a national title. 

Rather than take another step forward in his development, Lawrence appears to have regressed. He entered Saturday with more interceptions through four games (five) than he had all last season (four). 

There are still glimpses of elite-level Lawrence. His placement of this go-ahead touchdown pass to Tee Higgins on 3rd-and-6 in the fourth quarter was perfect:

As noted by Michael Felder of Stadium, Lawrence was thrown off his game Saturday when North Carolina's defense forced him to look away from his No. 1 option:

If there is a reason to be optimistic about Lawrence and the Tigers, the rest of the regular-season schedule isn't difficult. Boston College, North Carolina State and South Carolina are their only opponents with winning records. 

It also helps that Lawrence is surrounded by a highly-skilled players at running back and wide receiver to help take some pressure off his shoulders.

Travis Etienne entered Saturday averaging 7.5 yards per carry. Higgins has been a big-play machine all year with 23.5 yards per reception. Justyn Ross hasn't had a breakout game yet, but the sophomore had 1,007 yards and averaged 21.7 yards per catch in 2018. 

Now that opposing defenses have had a chance to adjust to Lawrence, it's up to him to prove he can counter their attack. If he can't get it done, the Tigers' dreams of winning a second straight national title will turn into a nightmare. 

            

What's Next?

Clemson will have a week off to regroup before it hosts Florida State on Oct. 12. North Carolina will go on the road to Bobby Dodd Stadium for an Oct. 5 matchup with Georgia Tech.

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