What UVA Football fans need to know about the Clemson offense

ACC Championship GameRemember when Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was in his sophomore slump? Yes, that was actually this year.

Lawrence, fresh off leading the Tigers to a national title as a true freshman, stumbled a bit out of the gate, grading on the curve, for a guy who’d just won a natty.

Through three weeks, Lawrence had five picks, and after a two-INT outing in a 45-10 win over Louisville on Oct. 19, the tally was at eight interceptions in seven games.

Seems like so long ago.

Over his last five, Lawrence is completing 76.0 percent of his passes, and in limited action, with Clemson winning by an average of 45.2 points per game, he’s thrown 16 TD passes and …

Wait for it.

Zero INTs.

“I feel like I’m playing well right now,” Lawrence said in a teleconference with reporters on Monday. “I’m confident in that. Yeah, I don’t think I played my best the beginning of the season. Still I think I played well. We won those games.

“I’m still proud of the fact that we’re 12-0 right now. I don’t really worry too much about all that stuff. For me, the biggest thing is just winning games and doing things the right way. At Clemson we do that. We’ve been doing that. If we can continue to do that every week, just prepare, go 1-0, have that mentality, I’m happy with whatever the result is.”

It helps to have the two-time defending ACC Player of the Year in the backfield with you. Tailback Travis Etienne repeated as the conference’s top player in 2019, running for 1,386 yards and 16 TDs, again in limited action, considering how infrequently the Tigers find themselves tested.

The backup at tailback, Lyn-J Dixon (572 yards, five TDs), would be a starter just about anywhere else.

And you don’t think this about Lawrence, but Peyton Manning prototype that he appears to be, he can actually run, gaining 383 yards and scoring seven times on the ground in 2019.

Lawrence has nine receivers with double-digits in receptions to choose from when he goes to the air, which is scary.

The best of the bunch is 6’4” junior Tee Higgins (43 catches, 900 yards, 10 TDs), but, damn, it’s an embarrassment of riches up and down the depth chart.

Another 6’4” burner, sophomore Justyn Ross (52 catches, 648 yards, 7 TDs) helps stretch the field, alongside 5’10” water bug Amari Rogers (27 catches, 380 yards, 4 TDs).

Even Etienne out of the backfield (28 catches, 289 yards, 2 TDs) has to be accounted for.

The offensive line will … pardon my French, but it will piss you off how good this unit is.

All five starters were All-ACC – two on the first team (Tremayne Anchrum, John Simpson), two on the second team (Gage Cervenka, Sean Pollard), the other on the third team (Jackson Carman).

What this does for defensive coordinators: it wrecks their week, is what it does.

“A significant challenge, not only at quarterback, but running back and wide receiver,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said this week. “When you look at this particular opponent, and it doesn’t matter which side you’re looking at, offense or defense, the talent is certainly the first thing that jumps out. The scheme and strategy and the coaching is certainly strong also from the Clemson offense specifically.

“Basically everyone that touches the ball is very skilled, very capable,” Mendenhall said. “Clemson’s ranking and their success is not accidental. It’s coming because of the collective the things I just mentioned.

“Yeah, significant test for us.”

The emphasis for the Virginia D in its game prep: “it’s just not try to do too much,” linebacker Charles Snowden said.

“One thing we talk about is doing your 1/11th. I think it’s just doing my 1/11th, but doing it at a higher level than I did all year,” Snowden said.

“I don’t think I need to go out there and try to create a play every play out there. It’s just understanding my job, doing it to the best of my ability, trusting the guys around me that they’ll do theirs, see what happens.”

Another way to put it: no heroes.

Control gaps, stay in your lanes, keep guys in front of you.

And maybe make sure you’re right with God.

Can’t hurt, that last one.

“We’re going to have a huge test ahead of us,” defensive tackle Eli Hanback said. “Clemson, obviously one of the best teams in the country, have been for a while now. With that O-line, Travis Etienne, they are very, very capable, very, very good. We got a tall order ahead of us. We’re going to have to prepare.”

Story by Chris Graham

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