Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 25, 2018 at 10:20 pm.

Clemson going with freshman quarterback

Unbeaten and third-ranked Clemson will put the ball in the hands of a freshman quarterback Saturday when the Tigers play host to undefeated Syracuse (4-0) Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Rookie Trevor Lawrence will make the first start of his career and become the first Clemson freshman quarterback to start a game since Deshaun Watson in 2014.

Lawrence will replace incumbent and graduate Kelly Bryant, who had started each of the Tigers’ last 18 games over the past two seasons, including each game in Clemson’s 4-0 start this season.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it wasn’t an easy decision to demote Bryant, who guided the Tigers to a 12-2 record and third consecutive berth in the College Football Playoff last season.

“Kelly’s done nothing wrong — he’s played well,” Swinney said. “Trevor just exceeded. After four games, based on productivity and the sheer data, he deserves to run out there first.”

The numbers support Swinney’s contention.

Bryant has thrown for 461 yards on 66.7 percent passing, but has just two touchdowns.

Lawrence, who threw four touchdown passes in Clemson’s 49-21 victory at Georgia Tech last week, has a team-leading nine touchdown passes this season and has completed 65 percent of his attempts for 600 yards.

The 6-foot-6, 215-pounder gives Clemson a downfield threat that had been largely missing under Bryant’s direction.

“He’s just made some unbelievable plays,” Swinney said. “He’s got a bunch of touchdown drives and has just been very, very productive. I’m excited for Trevor. I think he’s earned it.”

Swinney was quick to point out that Lawrence doesn’t have “a lifetime contract,” so it’s not out of the question that Bryant could regain the starting job. In any case, Swinney wants to keep Bryant engaged, although the 22-year-old could elect to transfer and have one year of eligibility remaining.

“We’re very fortunate to have two guys who can play,” Swinney said. “One of them is going to be hot; the chances of both of them being cold is probably not real good. We like where we are and we’re definitely going to continue to get No. 2 in there.”