Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says he is “very optimistic” All-American Shaq Lawson will play in the national title game against Alabama after the defensive end missed most of the Tigers’ semifinal victory with a knee injury.
Lawson leads the Tigers (14-0) with 10 1/2 sacks and is tops in the country with 23 1/2 tackles for loss. The junior sprained his left knee in the first quarter of Clemson’s 37-17 victory against Oklahoma on Thursday and hardly played the rest of the game.
The top-ranked Tigers (14-0) face No. 2 Alabama (13-1) on Monday in Glendale, Arizona.
Lawson was set to practice today, Swinney said, and has already gone through workouts with the team.
“He looked pretty good, so, so far so good,” Swinney said Monday during a teleconference. “We’ll see him out there today, but I think the prognosis is good at this point. But got to get out there and run around a little bit today, and we’ll kind of go from there. I’m very optimistic that he’ll be able to play.”
Clemson doesn’t have great defensive line depth and has leaned heavily on first-string defensive ends Lawson and Kevin Dodd this season. With Lawson out, freshman Austin Bryant got substantial playing time. Bryant had four tackles and half a sack, including a key hit on a fourth-down stop, against the Sooners.
“Really proud of him,” Swinney said. “It was huge. The fourth-and-1, the initial hit, was Austin Bryant, and it was Austin Bryant, Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph, another freshman who hasn’t played a lot, but those three guys were two freshmen and a sophomore making a big stop on fourth-and-1, which was a key play in the game. But that’s what you hope to get throughout the season is the development of some of those young guys.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban said defensive back Tony Brown remains suspended after he was sent home the Cotton Bowl for a violation of team rules. Brown was at No. 2 on Alabama’s depth chart at both cornerback and safety heading into the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State. The sophomore and former five-star recruit had 16 tackles on the season, including a team-high eight on special teams.