Photo by © Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Clemson Football

Trevor's World

December 29, 2018

ARLINGTON, Texas -- “Pressure is a privilege.”

Those were the words of Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book earlier this week as he continued his preparations for the awaited matchup with No. 2 Clemson. He said he embraces the target on his back as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback and that he relishes for these types of opportunities underneath the bright lights of Texas.

It’s one thing to feel the pressure breathing down your neck and be OK with it, but it’s another when that same pressure doesn’t faze you. At all.

Trevor Lawrence proved inside the place they call “Jerry World” that he is simply numb to the pressures that usually come with playing on one of the biggest stages in the college football world. His performance in the 30-3 victory over the Fighting Irish pushed the Tigers to their third national championship game in four years.

And trust us, no one inside Clemson’s locker room was surprised.

“He’s a special player,” Christian Wilkins said of his true freshman quarterback. “I think he realizes that he is a big part of what we do. It’s special to have him on our side.”

“That guy is unbelievable,” Tee Higgins added.

Head coach Dabo Swinney: “He just sees it. And he's got a gift of an arm. But I just love his humility and how consistent he is with his demeanor and his preparation day in and day out.”

Everything’s bigger in Texas. Yes, even the stat lines.

After a slow start, Lawrence rocked No. 3 Notre Dame’s world in the second quarter one drive after another. The true freshman completed 13-of-15 passes for 229 yards and had all three of his touchdowns.

It was poetic to watch Lawrence, whose first pass in Texas was a 64-yard touchdown to Higgins against Texas A&M in week two, come back to Texas and dismantle the Irish the way he did. After Notre Dame failed to convert on a fourth-down conversion, Lawrence found freshman Justyn Ross for a 58-yard touchdown where he evaded two defenders on the way to the end zone.

But the connection didn’t end there. Notre Dame’s defense came into the Cotton Bowl only allowing two plays of 40 yards or more all season. Ross had two receptions of over 40 yards in that second quarter alone, the second being a 42-yard strike on third-and-14 to cap off an 8-play drive.

Ross set a Cotton Bowl record in the first half with his five receptions for 137 yards and two scores. The bad news for the rest of the country, and NFL owners in need of playmakers, is that Lawrence and Ross will be scoring touchdowns together for at least two more years at Clemson.

“That’s why he’s one of the top receivers in the country,” Swinney said of Ross.

In the blink of an eye, the luck of the Irish ran out. Well, not that there was much there to begin with.

Country music legend George Strait was on the sidelines wearing orange, which was probably not the best omen for Ian Book given how much he had to “run” from Clemson’s front all game long.

Clemson’s defense held Notre Dame’s offense to only three points, which were the fewest points ever scored by Notre Dame in a bowl game. It was a flashback to Clemson’s performance against Ohio State in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl where the Tigers shut out the Buckeyes.

With plenty of time to prepare, Brent Venables left Dallas, and the Irish, in the dust.

Notre Dame was outgained by Clemson 538 yards to 248, which was a season-low for the Irish. And we weren’t lying, Book was running for his life out there as the defensive line, without Dexter Lawrence, had six sacks which tied a school record. And many of those sacks were coverage sacks due to the tremendous play of the secondary.

Book finished with 160 passing yards while completiting 17 of his 34 attempts. Ross almost had that yardage all by himself as he ended with six catches for 148 yards.

We noted that run-first teams don’t fare very well against Venables and the same applied on Saturday. The Tigers held Notre Dame to only 88 yards rushing, had eight tackles for loss, and forced two turnovers. Austin Bryant led the team in tackles with six, two of them being back-to-back sacks.

This week was full of what many thought would be a distraction when the news of Clemson’s three failed drug tests came to light. But it was interesting to watch all week how the team, especially the younger players, used it as a galvanizing time for the group to come together.

But the only trace of anything found on Saturday was the dominant trifecta of Trevor Lawrence, Justyn Ross, and Travis Etienne. With that trio, Clemson produced a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher, and a 100-yard receiver in the same game only for the second time in school history.

Etienne had 109 yards on 14 carries. His 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was the outlier to a relatively quiet day. The Irish wanted to take away Etienne’s running lanes up the middle and for Lawrence to beat them over the top. And that’s just what happened.

It feels like just yesterday when Swinney and Lawrence went through a change that is so difficult for teams to overcome. Since that Syracuse game where Lawrence left hurt and Clemson managed to escape, the Tigers have won nine games in a row by at least 20 points.

After last year’s Sugar Bowl’s offensive woes and the key drops at receiver, this year’s Cotton Bowl provided people everywhere the perspective that the newer pieces to the puzzle ended up being the perfect fit. All it took was a couple of freshmen.

But the moment of the game for Lawrence and Clemson came late in the second quarter. The Tigers got the ball on their own 20 with only 48 seconds to operate before halftime. On the third play of the drive, Lawrence found Hunter Renfrow, who by the way finished with four catches for 62 yards, for a gain of 32.

After Lawrence let go of the ball, Notre Dame defensive lineman Jerry Tilley pummeled Lawrence late and he tumbled to the turf, which tacked on a 15-yard penalty.

By this point, the Irish defense had gotten frustrated. And they waited just a little too late to try and rattle the freshman phenom. Other quarterbacks may have been bothered after that play. But Lawrence, as cool as he could be, stepped right back under center.

“It makes it a lot easier on me when you have guys all around you that are just great players and take that load off of you,” Lawrence said. “So there's not much pressure when you have guys this good playing around you.”

So on the next play, Lawrence made Notre Dame pay with a 19-yard touchdown throw to Higgins, who made the catch of the weekend with one hand. That moment left Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones salivating, and sent plenty of Clemson fans to the internet to start booking flights to Santa Clara.

Sure, Clemson’s senior class may have just notched its 54th win in four years and is about to head to its third national championship game. But it was freshmen that played a vital role in getting them there.

As Lawrence left AT&T stadium with an MVP trophy in hand, we imagined Jerry Jones, who tossed the coin before the game, catching up with the quarterback before he hopped on the team bus. Not to say any words, but just so he could toss him the keys to his 1.2-billion dollar place.

Because this is Trevor’s world. We’re just living in it.

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