NEW ORLEANS – Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was on his back, reaching out desperately with his right hand to try to gather in the ball after it squirted through his arms as he was dragged down to the Superdome turf.
The Heisman Trophy finalist couldn’t quite get a grip on it before it was ripped loose and ultimately recovered by Ohio State.
And with that, Lawrence’s bid to finish an extraordinary college football career with his second national championship slipped away. The Tigers were down three touchdowns and the deficit grew even larger in the fourth quarter before No. 3 Ohio State celebrated a 49-28 victory over No. 2 Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl on Friday night.
For the second straight season, Lawrence and Clemson got bounced from the CFP by being blown out in the Big Easy. Those were the only two losses in Lawrence’s 36 college starts.
Last season, Clemson fell 42-25 to LSU in the national championship game on the same field, with Lawrence having one of the worst games of his career (18 of 37, 234 yards, no touchdowns passing). This year in New Orleans, like last year, Lawrence scored the game’s first touchdown on a keeper, but later lost a fumble while Clemson was trying to close a yawning second-half deficit.
Lawrence played better overall this year, despite Clemson being without offensive co-ordinator and play-caller Tony Elliott, who is in COVID-19 protocol and did not make the trip to New Orleans. He finshed 33 of 48 for 400 yards and two touchdowns against one interception.
But the way Clemson’s defence struggled most of the game, giving up two touchdown passes longer than 50 yards, that wasn’t nearly enough.
When it was over, Lawrence had been outshone by Ohio State’s Justin Fields (22 of 28, 385 yards, six TDs).
That won’t change anything regarding the Heisman Trophy. The votes were already in. Lawrence is one of four finalists, along with Alabama QB Mac Jones, Crimson Tide receiver Davonta Smith and Florida QB Kyle Trask.
Time will tell if affects the thinking in pro football front offices. Lawrence, for much of this season, has been the consensus projected top pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
Still, barring an unexpected decision to return to Clemson for his senior season in 2021, Lawrence will be remembered as one of the faces of college football — on the field and off — during a tumultuous year.
Over the summer, he was out front of both social justice marches and calls for the games to continue despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
His stances earned him the respect of his peers across the country, as did his play.
In three seasons, Lawrence has passed for 10,098 yards and 90 touchdowns, and has rushed for 943 and 18 TDs. He also went down in Clemson history as the QB for the program’s third national championship team.
That may have to suffice. After all, not many have done better.