CLEMSON — Trevor Lawrence likes running the ball. It gets the Clemson quarterback out of the pocket and into the thick of this brutal game. It gets his blood flowing. Makes him feel more alive.
"Until I run a couple in a row," he said, smirking. "Then I'm super tired. And I can't breathe."
It takes a bit longer for Virginia's Bryce Perkins, Lawrence's quarterback counterpart in Saturday's ACC Championship, to lose his breath. Perkins is a running signal caller, a dynamic playmaker who led the Cavaliers to the title game with both his arm and his legs.
Clemson, slotted No. 3 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, knows containing Perkins will be a tall task, but players trust that defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have a plan. He always does, even if his thought process seems out of the box.
"You never really know with him," safety Tanner Muse said. "He'll come out of left field with some of these plans, and you're like, 'All right, let's do it then.'"
Venables has reinforced his unit's trust in him this season. The film junkie has regularly wowed his players — safety K'Von Wallace referred to him as a "scientist with this football thing" — with his penchant for sensing what's to come.
The results have been stunning. The Tigers have held all 12 of their opponents under 300 yards of total offense this season and rank second in the nation in total defense.
Virginia, though, presents unique challenges. Defensive tackle Jordan Williams said the Tigers haven't yet seen a quarterback with Perkins' running ability.
As Clemson rode the bus Friday to Columbia for its game at South Carolina this weekend, it watched Perkins lead Virginia past Virginia Tech 39-30. Perkins, a senior, finished 20-of-33 passing for 311 yards, a touchdown and an interception, in addition to rushing for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
In leading the Cavaliers past the Hokies for the first time in 15 years, Perkins was named the ACC's quarterback of the week.
"They've done a tremendous job building an offense around him," Venables said. "They do a good job of moving the pocket, and taking advantage of his athletic ability with rollouts and boots and things of that nature."
Clemson's offense, by contrast, is more traditional. Lawrence is a pocket passer with a big arm. This season he's thrown for 2,870 yards and 30 touchdowns. But he's also been increasingly successful using his legs; in Clemson's 38-3 win at South Carolina, Lawrence rushed for a career-high 66 yards.
Co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Tony Elliott suggested Lawrence might be faster than Deshaun Watson, the former Clemson quarterback who rushed for 1,105 yards in 2015.
"I don't know about that," Lawrence said. "I think, maybe, straight line, maybe. I think I have decent speed and it's something I can use, but I'm definitely not one of the faster guys on the team."
Lawrence pointed to running back Travis Etienne and linebacker Isaiah Simmons, two of the faster players on the team who have split a pair of head-to-head races. He can't keep up with them.
Perkins might be able to. The Tigers will get a closer look at him Saturday at Bank of America Stadium, when the Cavaliers will aim to play spoiler and prevent Clemson from earning a fifth straight CFP berth.
Venables still has plenty of film to dissect and a gameplan to install. He knows this: beating Virginia will start with containing its shifty quarterback.
"They put a lot on him at the line of scrimmage, as opposed to [him] checking the sideline and letting the coaches help him," Venables said. "He's doing it all on his own."