Two games into the season though, Lawrence has fallen short of the buzz we had going for him. He flopped in Berkeley without cracking the stat sheet, and put up just three receptions for 36 yards last weekend. Meanwhile, Tony and Christian Jones have both emerged as top targets. Damn.
But heading into Saturday's game with Western Michigan, I like Lawrence's chances of breaking out. I know, it's tough to expect much from a dude with one career touchdown catch. But trust this for a minute: I wasn't too off-base with Collin Ellis and Traveon Henry as my last two picks. Before we look at Lawrence's potential impact, we have to look at the impact of those competing with him for passes.
Tony Jones forces opposing defenses to respect the deep ball for the first time since Jeremy Ebert, and Christian Jones is slowly becoming the type of receiver that creates bad mismatches on third downs. Factor in Dan Vitale, whose emergence at the intermediate level will require attention from more than a lone linebacker or safety, and the Cats enjoy an impressive spread offense that stretches the field.
Though a core of talented receivers typically slashes individual stat lines, you have to think that Western Michigan will be giving particular attention to the three options that have been effective thus far. Lawrence will see plenty of time in single coverage, with all of the help defense coming over the top and between the seams with Vitale. If he can beat a Western Michigan cornerback (how good can they be...), he's open.
It helps that the Broncos have allowed more than 4.9 yards per rush this season, and ranked 80th in the country in defensive efficiency a year ago. Opening up the run early will help Lawrence and the passing game. And even more telling: this team allowed 10 or more plays on a whopping 15 percent of drives in 2012. As the Z receiver, Lawrence continues to be flanked out on the right side, where right-handed quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian will have clean looks in his direction and won't have to throw across their bodies to hit him. For a defense that tends to give up a lot of plays, a quick-look option like Lawrence will be trouble.
And Lawrence is still the same talented receiver we saw this spring. Two quiet games haven't changed his sharp route-running or his great speed. Similar to fellow Z receiver Cameron Dickerson, Lawrence has been neglected while the other side of the field starts to click. Against a bad Western Michigan secondary, and in a game where Northwestern could be leading by three scores in the second quarter, I think Lawrence gets experimented with and sees a big day.
Pat Fitzgerald called it "one of those freak things" when Lawrence went without a reception in the opener. Three catches against Syracuse isn't anything to write home about, but it's patient improvement that could carry over into this weekend. Rashad Lawrence, the team captain and hustling senior that so many offensive players speak highly of, should certainly score more than that one touchdown this season. Maybe the second of his career comes on Saturday. Now get hyped.