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Thursday October 22nd, 2020 5:14AM

Lawrence throws 4 TDs, No. 3 Clemson routs Ga Tech 49-21

By The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — With plenty of family and friends cheering him on, Trevor Lawrence certainly played like a starting quarterback.

Now, the Clemson Tigers have to decide if it's time to push the talented freshman to the top of the depth chart.

Lawrence claimed a leading role in Clemson's quarterback rotation, coming off the bench to throw four touchdown passes as the No. 3 Tigers romped past Georgia Tech 49-21 on Saturday.

"I thought I played well," Lawrence said. "I don't know what's going to happen. I'm just going to keep attacking every week, trying to do all I can to help the team."

After starter Kelly Bryant produced just 13 yards and one first down on Clemson's first two possessions, Lawrence entered the game early in the second quarter. The youngster, a native of nearby Cartersville, quickly guided the Tigers on a seven-play, 74-yard drive capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow that made it 14-0.

Lawrence finished with 176 yards on 13-of-18 passing for the Tigers (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), also connecting with Justyn Ross for a 53-yard score , Travis Etienne on a 3-yard touchdown just before halftime and Tee Higgins for a 30-yard TD in the closing minutes.

Bryant was 6 of 10 passing for 56 yards. The senior quarterback who guided Clemson to the College Football Playoff last season clearly played second fiddle on this day.

Is that going to become a permanent arrangement?

Coach Dabo Swinney wasn't saying.

"We're going to enjoy it tonight," he insisted. "We're not going to set depth charts here in the postgame press conference."

It was a thoroughly dismal performance by Georgia Tech (1-3, 0-2), which is off to its worst start since 2003 and sure to face increasing questions about Paul Johnson's coaching future.

The Yellow Jackets fumbled eight times, recovering seven of them but giving up a touchdown when Clelin Ferrell fell on a loose ball in the end zone for Clemson's first TD . The home team completed just three passes and was held to 146 yards on the ground — not even close to its nation-high rushing average of 392.7 coming into the game.

"We got our tails kicked," Johnson said bluntly.

Georgia Tech's lone score of the first half came after Lawrence tried to set up a screen pass out of the backfield, only to hit an offensive lineman in the back with the short throw . Desmond Branch picked off the deflected ball, returning the gift interception to the Tigers 23.

Four plays later, TaQuon Marshall scored on an 11-yard run to cut Clemson's lead to 21-7, giving Georgia Tech a glimmer of hope with just over 2 minutes left in the first half.

Lawrence quickly snuffed out any thoughts of an upset.

Guiding Clemson down the field like a veteran, Lawrence completed six passes for 54 yards — shoveling a toss to Etienne with five seconds left in the half to restore a commanding three-touchdown edge before the Tigers headed to the locker room.

Many Georgia Tech fans didn't bother returning for the second half on a blistering day with temperatures in the low 90s, leaving a stadium that already was packed with huge swaths of orange-clad fans looking like an Atlanta version of Death Valley.

THE TAKEAWAY

Clemson: All eyes are on the quarterback position. The only question seems to be how long it will take for Lawrence to become the undisputed starter. The coaching staff was impressed with his decision making, and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said he's eager for Lawrence to show off his running ability. Meanwhile, the defense left little doubt that it's one of the nation's best, largely stifling the Yellow Jackets' option offense while playing everyone on the roster.

Georgia Tech: A team that had hopes of contending for a division title is now in full-scale crisis mode. Since winning the Orange Bowl and finishing No. 8 nationally during the 2014 season, the Yellow Jackets are 18-22 overall and 9-17 in the league. The fan base is grumbling and athletic director Todd Stansbury surely took note of all the empty seats at Bobby Dodd Stadium, even on a day when the visiting team brought a huge contingent to Atlanta.

RUN, TIGERS, RUN

Georgia Tech may have been the nation's top rushing team, but they were no match for the Tigers.

Etienne rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries, while Tavien Feaster chipped in with 75 yards and a TD on eight carries.

Clemson finished with 248 yards on the ground, averaging nearly 7 yards per attempt.

TAKE A SEAT

Clemson linebacker Chad Smith was ejected late in the third quarter for targeting.

Smith doled out a helmet-to-helmet hit on Marshall, sending the Georgia Tech quarterback to the turf as he was completing his first pass of the game.

The penalty was upheld after a video review, meaning Smith will also have to sit out the first half of Clemson's next game.

UP NEXT

Clemson: Returns home next Saturday to face unbeaten Syracuse, the team that doled out the Tigers' only regular-season loss of 2017 — a 27-24 stunner at the Carrier Dome.

Georgia Tech: Hosts Bowling Green (1-3) in a nonconference game that will mark the first meeting between the schools.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

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For more AP college football coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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