Freshman Trevor Lawrence took a leading role in Clemson’s quarterback rotation, coming off the bench to throw four touchdown passes as the No. 3 Tigers produced their most complete performance of the season Saturday in a 49-21 rout of Georgia Tech.
After starter Kelly Bryant produced just 13 yards and one first down on Clemson’s first two possessions, Lawrence entered the game early in the second quarter. The youngster, a native of nearby Cartersville, quickly guided the Tigers on a seven-play, 74-yard drive capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow that made it 14-0 .
Lawrence finished with 176 yards on 13-of-18 passing for the Tigers (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), also connecting with Justyn Ross for a 53-yard score , Travis Etienne on a 3-yard touchdown just before halftime and Tee Higgins for a 30-yard TD in the closing minutes.
Bryant also directed a touchdown drive, winding up 6 of 10 passing for 56 yards.
It was a thoroughly dismal performance by Georgia Tech (1-3, 0-2), even with a couple of garbage-time touchdowns. The Yellow Jackets are off to their worst start since 2003 and sure to face increasing questions about Paul Johnson’s coaching future.
The Yellow Jackets fumbled eight times, recovering seven of them but giving up a touchdown when Clelin Ferrell fell on a loose ball in the end zone for Clemson’s first TD . The home team completed just three passes and was held to 146 yards on the ground — not even close to its nation-high rushing average of 392.7 coming into the game.
Georgia Tech’s lone score of the first half came after Lawrence tried to set up a screen pass out of the backfield, only to hit an offensive lineman in the back with the short throw . Desmond Branch picked off the deflected ball, returning the gift interception to the Tigers 23.
Four plays later, TaQuon Marshall scored on an 11-yard run to cut Clemson’s lead to 21-7, giving Georgia Tech a glimmer of hope with just over 2 minutes left in the first half.
Lawrence quickly snuffed out any thoughts of an upset.
Guiding Clemson down the field like a veteran, Lawrence completed six passes for 54 yards — shoveling a toss to Etienne with five seconds left in the half to restore a commanding three-touchdown edge before the Tigers headed to the locker room.
Many Georgia Tech fans didn’t bother returning for the second half on a blistering day with temperatures in the low 90s, leaving a stadium that already was packed with huge swaths of orange-clad fans looking like an Atlanta version of Death Valley.
Clemson: The Tigers insist they’re perfectly comfortable with their two-quarterback rotation, but it will be interesting to see how the playing time is doled out in the weeks to come if Lawrence continues to shine. The defense left little doubt that it’s one of the nation’s best, thoroughly stifling the Yellow Jackets’ option offense most of the game while playing everyone on the roster.
Georgia Tech: A team that had hopes of contending for a division title is now in full-scale crisis mode, already facing a deep hole before it even begins the bulk of its ACC schedule. Since winning the Orange Bowl and finishing No. 8 nationally during the 2014 season, the Yellow Jackets are 18-22 overall and 9-17 in the league. The fan base is grumbling and athletic director Todd Stansbury surely took note of all the empty seats at Bobby Dodd Stadium, even on a day when the visiting team brought a huge contingent to Atlanta.
Clemson: Returns home next Saturday to face unbeaten Syracuse, the team that doled out the Tigers’ only regular-season loss of 2017 — a 27-24 stunner at the Carrier Dome.
Georgia Tech: Hosts Bowling Green (1-3) in a nonconference game that will mark the first meeting between the schools.
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