Sports Journalism Blog

Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson prior to a home game. (Scott Blackwell | Clemson Athletics)

Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson on the field prior to a home game.
(Clemson Athletics | Scott Blackwell)

By Frank Gogola | @FrankGogola

Sports Capital Journalism Program

Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson said after the Orange Bowl that he expected to play in the College Football Playoff National Championship despite a left knee injury.

During a conference call four days later, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney sounded just as optimistic about his standout defensive end being on the field as the Tigers seek their first title since 1981. Kickoff between No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET on Jan. 11 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Swinney said Lawson, Clemson’s first-team All-American defensive end who suffered a medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain, will practice today and be re-evaluated.

“So far, so good,” Swinney said. “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.”

Lawson injured his left knee on the opening drive of the Orange Bowl. He returned but left the game for good after sacking Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield on the second drive. He remained on the sideline and had a bag of ice wrapped around his knee.

Lawson has been the Tigers’ most consistent threat getting into the backfield. He leads the team with 23.5 tackles for loss (which is tops in the FBS) and 10.5 sacks.

Clemson held Oklahoma to 67 rushing yards and recorded nine tackles for loss and five sacks without Lawson. The Tigers replaced their top defensive lineman with true freshman Austin Bryant, who had four tackles and 0.5 sacks as well as making the initial hit on a fourth and 1 stop. Lawson’s bookend, Kevin Dodd, registered 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack in the 37-17 win.

Clemson running back Wayne Gallman (9) and quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) dance after Gallman scored a touchdown during the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma on Dec. 31 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (AP Photo | Lynne Sladky)

Nick Saban on Deshaun Watson’s dual-threat ability

There’s a reason why Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson finished third in Heisman voting and was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press: He’s good.

But just how good? Alabama coach Nick Saban answered that question Monday and had high praise for the quarterback his defense will hope to contain.

“Really is probably as fine a dual-threat quarterback as we’ve played against for a long, long time,” Saban said of the quarterback who passed for 3,699 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for 1,032 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Saban-coached teams have struggled against mobile or dual-threat quarterbacks over the years. His teams have lost 10 times since 2010, falling at the hands of quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Nick Marshall, Trevor Knight, Cardale Jones and Chad Kelly, among others.

Saban cited Watson’s ability to get into a rhythm as a passer and his being able to scramble and extend plays because of his athleticism as the challenges presented by the Clemson signal caller. He added there’s no question that Watson is an “outstanding leader,” which is evidenced by the way his teammates rally around him.

Swinney on Alabama’s defensive line

Swinney extended the praise back to Alabama in regards to its defensive line, which has swallowed teams whole this season. He said the Crimson Tide’s defensive line is clearly the best the Tigers have seen all season.

Alabama’s front seven was instrumental in containing Michigan State to 29 rushing yards for an average of 1.1 yards per carry in the Cotton Bowl. The Tide also posted six tackles for loss and four sacks.

On the season, Alabama leads the nation in rushing defense (70.8) and scoring defense (13.4), and is second in total defense (256.8). Still, Swinney said it’s the depth of the Crimson Tide’s defensive line that jumps out at him.

“I mean, they’ve got – they roll them guys in there, play a lot of guys, a bunch of subs, and they all play at a really, really high level,” Swinney said. “That’s why they’re a great team.”

Swinney continued by saying the Alabama defensive line reminds him of his defensive line last season. That line featured six seniors and was key in helping Clemson lead the nation in total yards allowed per game (260.8) and rank third in points allowed per game (16.7).

“We had such great depth, experienced depth, and that’s what I see with Alabama, a bunch of guys, bunch of seniors and juniors, and all those guys are starter type of bodies: Big, strong, physical guys, and obviously well-coached,” Swinney said.