Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s talent shone both through the air and on the ground in the Tigers' 29-23 victory over Ohio State in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl on Saturday at State Farm Stadium.
The sophomore, who has already won three major bowl games and has a chance to lead the Tigers to a second College Football Playoff National Championship Game in as many years, threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns. He also added a team-high 107 yards on the ground and tacked on a rushing touchdown.
Ohio State boasted several talented defensive players at each level, but was especially tough at the defensive line. Lawrence, who said he worked all offseason to add more speed and versatility to his game, was an “equalizer” to the stout pass rush, according to coach Dabo Swinney. The Buckeyes still got plenty of pressure, and sacked Lawrence three times. But more often, he found space with his feet to either run for more yards or extend plays and find receivers down the field.
“I just wanted to do whatever I can to help us win, and me running the ball this season has been important in some games to help us win,” Lawrence said.
Swinney noted that there would be two aspects of the offense that would be necessary to score points. The first was the quarterback draw.
“This guy can move, man. People don't really realize that. That's one of the things that's changed his game, is he's gotten as much confidence in his legs now as he does his arm,” Swinney said.
“He picks his spots, but we don't win the game tonight if we didn't have his legs, because they're going to always outnumber you in the box by nature of what they do.”
The other offensive plays Swinney said were emphasized on the call sheet were passes to running backs.
Starting back Travis Etienne caught three balls for a team-high 98 receiving yards and two scores, with perhaps the most important one coming late in the fourth quarter.
With just under two minutes remaining and Clemson down a score, Lawrence faked a run, drew the linebackers in and floated a short pass to Etienne, who ran about 30 more yards for the game-winning touchdown with 1:49 remaining.
The play came to fruition as Ohio State’s front seven was hyper-focused on Lawrence and his runs, as he had already burned them several times. That mere second of trickery was enough for Etienne to get open and take advantage.
Lawrence, though, was not even sure the play would work.
“I didn't feel super confident about it because I didn't have great practice reps at it. It was set up so perfect, we couldn't not run it. So we ran it. Luckily me and Travis [Etienne] were on the same page and we made a good play,” Lawrence said.
Clemson and Lawrence celebrated the bowl win and proudly hoisted the trophy, thanks in big part to Lawrence’s effort. Now eyes will be focused on winning one more game, a College Football Playoff National Championship Game against No. 1 LSU in New Orleans on Jan. 13.
"We are going to celebrate this one and give these guys a couple days off," Swinney said. "Then we are going to get back to work and try to find a way to win one more."