After Clemson struggled in its 34-28 win over Boston College, it was obvious Trevor Lawrence’s stock went up for the Tigers. But, after Clemson’s 47-40 double overtime loss to Notre Dame, not only did Lawrence’s stock go up, Dabo Swinney and the rest of the team’s stock plummeted to the ground and looks to be in trouble going forward.
I know, I know. You’re probably saying, “But Ryne, Clemson was also down three starters on defense and that’s where they struggled the most.” It’s a good point, but when Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book fumbled into the end zone and drained the Irish of momentum, Lawrence would have slowed the game down and began clock management for the rest of the game, limiting the possessions the Irish saw. Instead freshman quarterback DJ Uiagalelei looked rushed and uncomfortable, as he should in his second start against a top ranked program. Lawrence would have also been better early in the game which would have made the game play out differently as a whole. Dabo has been beating the drum saying Uiagalelei was injured but we aren’t buying it.
Lawrence is the consensus for the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft and has been for years now. Some believe he could have gone to the NFL out of high school — I am not one of these people; however I am under the impression Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning in the ‘90s and will have a dozen teams fighting to get him in the draft in April. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is a good player and Georgia definitely dropped the ball letting him transfer, but Fields is not on Lawrence’s level. Prior to the illness, Lawrence and the Tiger offense were historically great and making unbelievable plays, but the whole team has struggled in his absence.
Clemson is still in a class of its own with Alabama and Ohio State, but after seeing the offensive woes in the first half and double overtime, the Tigers better do whatever they can to keep Lawrence healthy and upright the rest of the way or they will be in big trouble. If Lawrence comes back and is healthy, Clemson should have no problem with the committee voting the Tigers into the playoff.
Clemson would have won against the Fighting Irish by two touchdowns if Lawrence played so Clemson isn’t in any trouble as far as the College Football Playoff is concerned. The problem lies in Clemson’s future. The loss to Notre Dame will hurt the Tigers when it comes to recruiting. If Dabo was a smart guy, which he is, he would use it as a bargaining tool to tell recruits they are the missing piece the program needs. But unfortunately for Clemson fans there are a lot of schools that could use that argument to entice recruits and see significant more playing time — case in point Florida and Texas A&M right off the top of my head.
Notre Dame is a good program and who knows, maybe it is really good this year and have turned a corner. However, football fans and myself can’t get over what we saw in a national championship a few years back. The only way Brian Kelly can erase that memory is a win in the playoffs against a full-strength team like Alabama or a rematch with Clemson.
On the other hand, Cam Newton was playing great until he contracted COVID-19 and has been a shell of himself since he came back; this could happen to Lawrence and could make for interesting what-ifs. What if Clemson doesn’t make the playoffs? Does Dabo see the writing on the wall and leave for the NFL or another school? It’s been the defense struggling during Lawrence’s absence, so does Dabo get rid of Brent Venables and make a change at defensive coordinator? Clemson at full strength should still the be the favorite to win it all, but what else is there for Dabo to accomplish at the program?
Dabo is a former Alabama player, so is he just waiting and biding his time until Nick Saban retires? If that’s the case, he should challenge himself in the meantime by going for the NFL or taking over a historic program that is struggling right now. The worst thing anyone can do is get complacent which is what it feels like at Clemson.
Ryne Gallacher is a sports writer for The Outlook.