Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence has never had a break from football like this. Now that he is set to make his delayed return to the field, Lawrence is glad he gets to play in the final home game of the season.
Saturday could be his final home game at Clemson ever.
The Tigers' strong-armed, accurate, 6-foot-6 junior has done little more than practice and watch his teammates since missing a two-point conversion try early in the fourth quarter of a 47-21 win over Syracuse on Oct. 24.
Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19 the next week, missed the next two games before practicing through a bye week and then preparing for Florida State before that game was postponed last Saturday.
Lawrence and the Tigers (7-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 3 CFP) have their fingers crossed this time as they prepare for Pittsburgh (5-4, 4-4).
“That was frustrating for me because I wanted to be on the field,” Lawrence said of the Florida State game being canceled. “But there's going to be another week. Hopefully, everything goes well and we get to play. There's a lot of football ahead.”
Just maybe not for Lawrence, at least not at Clemson's Death Valley. He's scheduled to graduate next month and has said he plans to enter the NFL draft, where he's expected to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Last month, Lawrence was less committal on the NFL, saying he has options that include staying in college. Still, he will take the traditional solo run down Clemson's iconic hill on Senior Day before facing the Panthers.
“It's really changed my life being here,” Lawrence said. “There's going to be a lot of emotions, I don't know how strong they'll be when I'm up there” on the hill.
On the field, fans should expect the same, calm precision Lawrence has shown throughout his career. He was a Heisman Trophy frontrunner before his COVID-19 diagnosis, yet has faded from the spotlight with his time on the sidelines.
Lawrence and the Tigers won't have it easy against the Panthers, who enter Saturday's matchup with the league's top defense. Pittsburgh leads the country in tackles for loss per game and has three players among ACC's top five in that category this season.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi understands his team will have play at or above its level thus far to slow down Clemson's Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne.
“We know Trevor Lawrence and Etienne on offense are explosive,” he said.
Some other things to watch when Pittsburgh visits Clemson:
Early in the week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was angry about Florida State cancelling last Saturday's game due to positive coronavirus test by a Tigers player on Friday. He says the team has had no more positives and he's moving on to the Pitt game.
Pittsburgh has had its share of COVID-19 issues, too, with 16 players missing from last week's game with Virginia Tech due to coronavirus protocols. Coach Pat Narduzzi is unsure if any will be back to play Clemson. “With COVID protocols, with injuries, you just don't know,” he said.
Travis Etienne, the two-time reigning ACC player of the year, will make his last appearance in front of Clemson's home crowd this week. The senior has improved his skills in the passing game as opponents have focused on the run and taking Etienne out of action. Etienne has 634 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. He's second on the team with 37 catches for 491 yards.
Pittsburgh's last trip to Clemson was also the last time the Tigers lost at home. The Panthers got a late, 48-yard field goal from Chris Blewitt to beat No. 2 Clemson 43-42 on Nov. 12, 2016. The Tigers have won the last 27 straight at home since losing to the Panthers.
Clemson's Swinney was appreciative of the crowds who've turned out for the team's five home games so far given restrictions on seating, tailgating and the typical fan game-day experience provided at and around Memorial Stadium. Clemson has allowed up to 19,000 people in the stadium, about a quarter of capacity. Still, Swinney said those there are orange-wearing, loud and proud. “It's not the same type of environment we're accustomed to, but it's still been awesome,” Swinney said.
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