CLEMSON — That Trevor Lawrence has the ability to one day play football at the professional level is hardly up for debate. Some experts claim the Clemson quarterback would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft had he been eligible.

But he was not eligible, and he won't be for two more years, the first of which kicked off last week against Georgia Tech. It was then, in the second quarter of a blowout, that Lawrence made a mistake. He took the snap in the shotgun, looked right and threw the ball to Georgia Tech defensive back Tre Swilling.

Interception. 

Then Lawrence did something surprising. Swilling had a clear path to the end zone, and he had made it 41 yards to the two-yard line when it happened, when Lawrence lowered his shoulder and drilled Swilling out of bounds.

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"That's gonna be the highlight of our season," safety K'Von Wallace said.

"That kind of play sets the tone for everything that we do," coach Dabo Swinney said.

Lawrence said he didn't second guess his decision: "No. I was going to hit him."

For all the praise Lawrence earned from Swinney and his Tigers teammates for the hit, some fans on social media expressed concern for his decision. What about those two more years of eligibility? Lawrence doesn't appear preoccupied with such concerns, and that's quite alright with Swinney.

"You can't play this game scared," Swinney said. "I don't think that's a good mindset to have. He is smart. He's not looking for unnecessary hits. At the end of the day, that was the play that was required at the time."

Lawrence's tackling form on the play was ideal given the situation, said Dr. David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston. (Geier writes a regular column for The Post and Courier).

"The good thing is he didn't do what a lot of people who aren't experienced with tackling do, and that's leading with your head," Geier said. "That's where you get the catastrophic cervical spine injuries and players getting paralyzed."

Indeed, Lawrence popped right back up after the tackle and returned to the game. He wasn't as lucky last season (Sept. 29, 2018) when he was drilled in the second quarter of Clemson's game against Syracuse. Lawrence, in his first game after veteran QB Kelly Bryant left the team, was running down the sideline when he was tripped, and then on the way down crushed by Orange defensive back Evan Foster. 

Foster made contact with Lawrence's head, and the then-freshman lie on the turf face down for a moment before turning over on his back. Lawrence was removed from the game and placed in the NCAA's concussion protocol, but it was later deemed Lawrence suffered a neck injury and not a head injury. 

He was back for the following week's 63-3 shellacking of Wake Forest, throwing for 175 yards and two touchdowns, and later gained national acclaim as he led the Tigers to the national championship. 

He refrained from running the ball too often, but Swinney said he expects Lawrence to use his legs more this season, potentially opening the prized quarterback up for more collisions. 

Lawrence left Clemson's 52-14 win over Georgia Tech early with the game out of hand, but not before rushing three times for 24 yards, including a six-yard touchdown scamper.

He could play deeper into No. 1 Clemson's contest Saturday afternoon against No. 12 Texas A&M, setting the stage for more rushing attempts, though the Aggies held Texas State to eight rushing yards in a 41-7 victory last week.

Swinney, for what it's worth, trusts Lawrence to make the smart play. Sometimes that means getting physical. 

"You can't sit around and worry about all that stuff," Swinney said. "You got to just play the game."

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland graduate.

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