CLEMSON — A Disney crew stopped by Death Valley on Saturday night for halftime filming of a feel-good movie, “Safety,” about Ray Ray McElrathbey, who raised his little brother while playing defensive back for Clemson.
Actors playing the 2006 Tigers vs. faux Florida Atlantic — and starring Tigers fans as themselves — was considerably more entertaining than the real game.
Clemson’s 52-10 victory over upstart Charlotte is what happens when a great college football team gets typically excited about facing yet another outmanned, outfoxed foe.
Four games for the No. 1-ranked defending national champs.
Foregone conclusion, another College Football Playoff appearance.
This is where Trevor Lawrence stepped onto the Clemson victory train as a starting quarterback in 2018, four game weeks into the Tigers’ 15-0 national championship season.
The 6-6, 220-pound pride of Cartersville, Ga., played exceptionally well coming off the bench in Clemson’s 49-21 win at Georgia Tech last September.
Head coach Dabo Swinney, no surprise, elevated Lawrence to QB1 before the next game.
Former starter Kelly Bryant entered the NCAA’s transfer portal and wound up at Missouri.
Lawrence wound up starring in a 44-16 national championship game victory over Alabama.
Ho-hum, the sophomore spent much of Saturday night cheering from the sideline as reserve players enjoyed so many snaps against Charlotte.
The full calendar year report card:
Lawrence has a national title ring, a pair of dazzling playoff appearances and an 11-0 record as a starter (though Chase Brice, following the baseball formula for win credit, deserves the W for last year’s 27-23 comeback against Syracuse).
"Unfortunately, I've seen Trevor play a lot," first-year Charlotte head coach Will Healy said. "I watched him in high school and I've watched him a bunch in college. He's as advertised. And not only that, he's an even better human being. I think he's the No. 1 pick in the draft when he wants to do it and he has really good weapons, too."
No college player is a sure-thing NFL star. But Lawrence sure looks like a cross between Peyton Manning (the height and study habits) and John Elway (the rocket right arm able to throw a 15-yard laser to the left sideline while rolling right).
Which is why “Tanking for Trevor” looms as a 2020 NFL thing looking ahead to the 2021 draft.
The 41-6 win at Syracuse last week wasn’t Lawrence’s best outing. Too many incompletions (22 of 39), interceptions (two) and balls forced into tight coverage when better options were available.
Five interceptions to match five touchdown passes over the first three games, not ideal. Not Heisman stuff, not that anyone at Clemson proposed such a standard.
But against Charlotte, Lawrence dropped back for his first pass attempt, double-clutched and hit Tee Higgins in stride for a 58-yard touchdown pass.
A nice, short night: 7 of 9 for 94 yards and two touchdowns and on the bench before halftime.
"It was good to be able to get him out," Swinney said. "He never touched the ground and that was good with me."
He is still a teenager (until Oct. 6).
Every week of learning is a big week.
Marketing types swoon more.
Christian Wilkins, Clemson’s veteran defensive tackle and sage, took Lawrence to breakfast last fall just after he was named starting quarterback. Gradually, Lawrence has blossomed into a leader himself.
“When he talks,” wide receiver Amari Rogers said last spring, “we listen.”
By summer, Lawrence was blasting Paul Finebaum, taking up for teammate John Simpson and calling the SEC Network host “unprofessional” after Finebaum ripped Simpson for saying Notre Dame was better than Alabama last season.
Lawrence much chattier on the sidelines and clearly more comfortable changing plays.
"Last year at this time of the season, Trevor and Kelly were battling it out and obviously the team had a lot of respect for both of those guys," redshirt sophomore guard Matt Bockhorst said. "Now he's established; he's a veteran. Guys know who he is off the field. He's just a really great guy to look to as far as attitude-wise and staying positive. He doesn't let the moment get too big. He doesn't let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. He's just a great leader for this team."
Swinney said during the spring and summer he wanted Lawrence to use his feet more to buy time and extend plays. So far, so good.
"He's been comfortable with the offense," offensive co-coordinator Tony Elliott said. "Now it's just a matter of trying not to do too much."
Swinney and offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott went on and on after the opener about how Lawrence chasing down a Georgia Tech defender following an interception (and then delivering a touchdown-saving tackle) inspired the whole team.
But hold your breath when Lawrence launches his tall, trim self into would-be tacklers or greedy ballcarriers.
Coaches cringe, too, truth be told.
Help is available. Anthony Seigler, the New York Yankees’ 2018 first-round draft pick who spent most of the 2019 season with the Class A Charleston RiverDogs, was a Cartersville High School classmate.
Head coach Monte Lee and several of his Clemson baseball players are standing by.
How can you argue with a 15-0 record?
Those long locks?
Progress and upside?
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.