Is Dabo Swinney a trendsetter when it comes to playing freshmen quarterbacks?


by - Senior Writer -
Trevor Lawrence led Clemson to a 15-0 record as a freshman
Trevor Lawrence led Clemson to a 15-0 record as a freshman

CLEMSON – College coaches used to say that a freshman quarterback was good for one loss a season by themselves, with the thinking being that a younger player would make enough mistakes to cost his team a game. That thinking is now outdated.

Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston helped Florida State roll through the college football world in 2013, leading the Seminoles to an undefeated season and a National Championship. Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench in the National Championship Game in 2017 to lead Alabama to a title.

Closer to home, Trevor Lawrence took over the Clemson offense after game four last season and led the Tigers to a 15-0 record and a national title, while Deshaun Watson took over early in his freshman season and was putting up huge numbers before injuries derailed his freshman campaign.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was asked Tuesday if he was a trendsetter in college football because he isn’t afraid to play younger players, including quarterbacks. Swinney laughed at the notion and said he thinks the college game will continue to see freshmen quarterbacks play big roles.

“It’s hard to beat out a veteran guy,” Swinney said during his Tuesday press conference. “You’ve got to really be elite, and that’s what’s happened in our case here. So, it’s something I think you’ll continue to see across the country, guys being well-equipped to come in.”

Players like Lawrence and Watson have played in spread offenses since youth football and have been exposed to more than just an option or I-formation attack. Swinney said when he played at Alabama he played in the I-formation, and if the coaches wanted to get wild and crazy they would use split backs but still have just two receivers.

“I would have loved to have played in today’s offenses,” Swinney said. “I still think it’s more the exception than the norm. But I would say probably, just from my own experience, it’s what these guys were exposed to in high school. Trevor and Deshaun had been starting since the ninth grade, and they had been really coached to the nth degree with a lot of what we do and they came in here with just a really good foundation from a football standpoint. They’d both nationally been recruited, exposed to a lot of things across the country.

“So, I just think from a mental standpoint – even though it’s different in high school – they still had been under pressure if you will. Both played in Friday Night Lights-type towns with high expectations and things like that, had been in state championships, and so I think their mentality and makeup was really good.”

In other words, things are different than when Swinney was playing.

“It’s just different from when I was coming up,” Swinney said. “These guys are doing seven-on-seven leagues, they’re just constantly in the gun, reading things. So, it’s been kind of like basketball on grass with some of these seven-on-seven things that they do, and I think that has been a huge part of the evolution of this quarterback that we see.”

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