Before Monday night, only three true freshman starting quarterbacks had ever defeated a Nick Saban–coached team. The first was LSU’s Herb Tyler, whose Tigers beat Michigan State 45-26 on December 29, 1995. The second was Florida’s Chris Leak, who piloted the Gators to a 19-7 victory at LSU on October 11, 2003. The third was Mississippi State’s Wesley Carroll, who went 9-of-21 passing in a 17-12 win over Alabama on November 10, 2007. And the fourth is Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who straight-up eviscerated Saban’s defense during a 44-16 stomping of the Crimson Tide in this week’s national title game, a result that took everything we knew about the sport and summarily flipped it on its head.
Clemson had won a national championship before, but never like this. Alabama had lost games under Saban before, but never like this. And Lawrence, a golden-haired 19-year-old from Cartersville, Georgia, had impressed on a prime-time stage before, but certainly never like this. He finished 20-of-32 for 347 yards with three touchdowns. Look upon the face of your new quarterbacking overlord.
Before we get to his hair—and honestly, we can’t talk about Lawrence’s hair enough—let’s establish three key points.
1. This was not a fluke. When Alabama has lost over the past decade, those losses have generally fallen into one of two categories: flukes (the Kick-Six, both Ole Miss losses, the night that Bama made Trevor Knight look like Aaron Rodgers) and all-time great performances by transcendent quarterbacks (the Camback, the rise of Johnny Football, Deshaun Watson hitting Hunter Renfrow to clinch Clemson’s 2017 title). This doesn’t fit neatly into either narrative, but seems likely to be remembered as the latter. Lawrence was the no. 1 prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, per 247Sports. He supplanted Kelly Bryant on the Clemson depth chart after Week 4 and went on to pass for more than 3,000 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions. And he completed a series of NFL-caliber throws on Monday, including this gorgeous 37-yard connection with Justyn Ross.
2. He outplayed Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa, Alabama’s sophomore quarterback, has been the talk of the college football world ever since he went from backup to legend on this stage a year ago. He followed that up by turning in one of the greatest statistical seasons in the sport’s history: He entered Monday with a 205.19 passer rating and an average of 11.4 yards per pass attempt. But while he showed the occasional flashes of brilliance in Santa Clara, Lawrence was more consistent. Tagovailoa made some of the worst throws he’s attempted all season; meanwhile, every time Alabama made an extremely un-Alabama-like mistake (what the fresh hell was this?), Lawrence made the Tide pay. Tua remains the best collegiate quarterback I’ve ever seen, but after 44-16, this feels appropriate.
3. It’s fair to start comparing Trevor to Deshaun. This goes beyond both QBs crushing Bama’s dreams to bring Clemson a national title. Tigers coaches have spoken repeatedly about the similarities between the two, and the way that Lawrence allows the offense to run many of the schemes it also ran when Watson was on campus. After the championship, Watson even gave his stamp of approval: “There’s no limit to [Lawrence’s] potential.”
Lawrence’s performance will serve as a springboard to an offseason of hype, and he’ll be among the Heisman Trophy favorites going into next fall. That should provide plenty of excuses to keep marveling at his hair. This is the man who will haunt Saban every night from now through September.
AND THE FLIP.
Lawrence just did the impossible. He joined one of the most exclusive quarterbacking clubs in existence; he helped hand Alabama the most devastating and humiliating loss of Saban’s tenure; he became the most sought-after future shampoo spokesman in recent memory; and he secured his place in every conversation about the next wave of QBs who could rule the sport. The past is the present: Touchdown Trevor is our god now.