Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney 'thankful for God's grace' as he pays respect to LSU

Clemson entered Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game as the winners of 29 consecutive contests. The Tigers followed up a loss in the 2017 CFP semifinals with a 15-0 title-winning season last year, and were 14-0 this season entering Monday.

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Sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence had yet to lose since arriving at Clemson, as those 29 victories accounted for his entire college career. As a true freshman in 2018, he played sparingly over the first four games, but took over full-time starting duties from Game 5 on.

So Monday night’s championship game defeat to LSU, 42-25, was a tough one to take. The Clemson defense gave up 628 yards of offense. And Lawrence completed only 48.6 percent of his passes (18 of 37) and his 101.8 efficiency rating was by far the lowest of his career (his average is 162.2).

Though disappointed and saying he “just didn’t do a good job,” Lawrence — who wrote “Romans 8:28” on his left wristband for the game — had nothing but praise for his opponents after his worst game as a collegian.

“I have a lot of respect for them,” Lawrence said in the postgame press conference. “Like Coach said, they play with a lot of character, a lot of class. Hats off to them, they beat us tonight. There are no excuses.”

Lawrence and head coach Dabo Swinney also vowed to bounce back. Even though they didn’t win back-to-back titles, they’ll be gunning for another one next year, when Lawrence will be a junior. Swinney said 80 of the 120 players on their roster were freshman or sophomores this year.

Then Swinney expressed how grateful he is for this 2019 squad.

“I’m thankful for our team. I’m thankful for God’s grace, for allowing me to be part of such a special group of people, coaches, staff and players, and just an unreal year. I mean, incredible. It’s just an incredible year, two years. Won 29 games in a row. It’s been a long time since I’ve stood in front of a team with a loss.

“But this team in particular, just really special. Coming into this year, 80 freshmen and sophomores out of 120, to get back to this point, I’m just super proud of them. It’s incredibly difficult to even get here and super hard to win it. That’s for sure,” Swinney said.

Swinney also had nothing but good things to say about LSU and head coach Ed Orgeron.

“I’m really happy for Coach O. I think he’s one of the good guys in the business, and I’m happy for him,” Swinney said. “I know what it’s like to be in that situation, and you pour a lot into it, and certainly no fun to be in this seat, but I do just say congratulations to them. Beautiful football team that earned it, and we were the first 15-0 team last year, and to see them do it, they earned it. Simple as that. So hats off to them, and I thought they played with tremendous character and class and just will to win.”

Character and class are big for Swinney, who has built his juggernaut football program — it has reached the playoff each of the past five seasons — on Biblical values. During a press conference at the beginning of the 2019 season, the coach said his word for the year was “purpose.”

“I know what my purpose as a man is, and that’s to glorify God, that’s to be a great husband and father, and it’s to use the game of football to equip young people for life. It’s just that simple,” he said.

Character is something Swinney looks for in the players he brings into his program, and Swinney’s character is something many recruits are drawn to in choosing Clemson. Lawrence is a prime example.

“I put my identity in what Christ says, who He thinks I am and who I know that He says I am,” the QB said early in his freshman season. “Like I said, it really does not matter what people think of me or how good they think I play. That does not really matter. That has been a big thing for me, in my situation, just knowing that and having confidence in that.”

With Swinney and Lawrence leading the way, and a lot of young talent already in the program, Clemson is the very early favorite to win the 2020 College Football Playoff.

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