The overwhelming opinion in the college football world is that the closer you are to the football, the harder it is to play early on in your college career. Someone forgot to share that news with Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
The true freshman lined up inches from the football Saturday night at Auburn and whipped his man time and time again, finishing second on the team in tackles with seven, and recording one of the Tigers’ three sacks.
Lawrence did not get the start but made his presence known quickly once he entered the game, leading Clemson with five tackles in the first half, including a sack for a loss of 11 yards.
“I wasn’t nervous much. I was ready to go. I know how hard I worked this offseason just to play this first game. We watched a lot of film on these guys. We knew what we were getting,” Lawrence said. “They didn’t know what they were getting because they hadn’t seen me on film yet. I felt like I maybe surprised them a little bit.”
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One guy who was not surprised by Lawrence’s performance was Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who could tell during the summer and fall camp that the 6-5, 340 pounder was ready to be a difference-maker.
“I’ve gotten over that surprise. I really felt like the moment would not be too big for him, just because he’s mature, humble hard working,” Venables said.
Lawrence’s sack came midway through the second quarter after Clemson had taken its first lead at 7-3. While it was a big play for the Tigers, not everyone was fired up about it.
“I’m a little upset because he got the first sack of the season,” Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins joked. “I really wanted that. But he did a good job. I’m glad he was able to get some experience and get out there and compete.”
Wilkins followed with a sack for a loss of 11 yards on the next play.
Lawrence and Wilkins also made their presence felt on offense, checking into the game with Clemson trailing 3-0 and facing a fourth-and-goal from the 1.
They paved the way for Tigers running back Wayne Gallman to stroll into the end zone untouched and give Clemson a 7-3 lead.
“That was fun. We were going through that play a little bit in practice, and I told Wayne he was going to score no matter what,” Lawrence said.
With Lawrence and Wilkins lined up in the backfield, Gallman’s lead blockers combine to weigh about 650 pounds.
“You have to have some beef (to stop them). Those are two guys they are not only big and strong, but they are super athletic and can move their feet,” Venables said. “They can change their direction in a short area and get underneath the pad and leverage area so that would be a tough one to matchup personnel wise.”
Troy at Clemson
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
Line: Clemson by 36