Cotton Bowl Notebook: Players, coaches react to Lawrence suspension


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Dexter Lawrence stretches before Tuesday's Cotton Bowl practice
Dexter Lawrence stretches before Tuesday's Cotton Bowl practice

DALLAS, TX – Clemson and Notre Dame players and coaches took center stage at the Cotton Bowl breakout sessions early Wednesday morning, and much of the reaction centered on the suspension of three Clemson football players.

Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, offensive lineman Zach Giella, and tight end Braden Galloway won’t play in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Saturday (even though there is an appeal in place that could clear the players in time), and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables says Lawrence isn’t taking any snaps in practice.

“He’s not repping,” Venables said of Lawrence. “In our minds, he’s injured and that’s the way I have to treat it. You hate it for Dexter. It’s like one of your own children. You hurt for him, but you treat it like an injury. Let the process work for itself. Prepare like we have been preparing for a couple of weeks to go win a ball game. That’s where your focus is. You get your arms around him and kind of move on.”

Does he think Lawrence will play?

“I have spent zero time thinking about it. I don’t live like that. I don’t know a percentage. I don’t know. I’m not involved in any part of the process whatsoever," he said.

Venables said Nyles Pinckney and Albert Huggins will take up most of the slack, with Jordan Williams playing a part.

“I have a lot of confidence. I have seen enough on tape and tough situations those guys have been involved in. Albert and Nyles and Jordan Williams, till he got injured earlier in the year, was really coming on,” Venables said. “He’s a nice couple of weeks and in some spot play in the last half of the season, he has done well. We got 11 guys. We really got 22 guys on both sides of the ball and our special teams. If we are who we think we are you are going to be able to overcome. Injuries are part of the game and that’s what we are treating this like. In some critical situations a year ago, whether it was Florida State to win the division or some other games when Dexter was very, very limited, Albert played really well and he is better now than he was then. This is just an opportunity for Albert, Nyles, and Jordan to contribute a little bit more and I think we will be just fine.”

Lawrence is spending time coaching while sitting out.

“I think we do a good of a job as anyone of loving our guys and lifting their spirit,” Venables said. “Coach Swinney is just amazing and finds a way to bring out the best in people so that is what he has done with Dexter. We are trying to keep him as involved as we can. He’s a huge reason why we sitting here today and why we have played great defense the last three years.”

Christian Wilkins said that Lawrence has been an exemplary leader this week.

“It's like treating it like an injury. You have to have the next-man-up mentality and fortunately - I'm glad Dex is able to be here,” Wilkins said. “He is able to pour into us. because he has such great football knowledge and he gets to lead for us and still impact the game. Obviously not maybe on the field but from this knowledge of the game and get guys ready and get them ready to go. It's no different from an injury.”

*Quarterback Trevor Lawrence said the team wants to win the game for their suspended teammates.

"I think it's really brought the guys together,” Lawrence said. “Something like that isn't going to tear us apart for sure. Obviously, it's a tough situation. We've got those guys' back and we want to - obviously, we wanted to win the game anyway but we want to win the game a little bit extra now. I think it adds a little bit of motivation and brings us closer together."

* Notre Dame center Sam Mustipher said he will prepare like Lawrence will play in the game and go head-to-head with him.

"I’ll believe it when I see it," he said to the media. "It was shocking, surprising, but I learned a long time ago in my career you got to prepare like you would for the best opponent you are going to play. All year I have taken the same mental approach each game I have gone into no matter who it is. That’d something that I take pride in being the same guy every day. No matter who steps in for Clemson I know they are going to be talented. I know the type of talent they recruit down there. I know the type of defense that Coach Venables runs, and they are going to be attacking. They are going to pin their ears back, trying to make plays and get off blocks. I’m looking forward to the challenge."

*If Lawrence isn't available, the Tigers could lean on Huggins and Pinckney.

"They are talented," he said. "They are seasoned, so it’s not like there is a true freshman coming into this game who has zero playing experience. These know what they have been doing. They have been running the defense, so it’s going to be a challenge. When we found out the news it wasn’t ‘Whoo, he’s not playing.’ They still got three guys over there that are top 10 talent I believe, and they got guys coming in who in future years can do the same things."

Mustipher knows that Lawrence is a big-time talent for Clemson.

"A guy who plays way more athletic than his size would indicate," he said. "He is able to shed blocks and make incredible plays and really manhandle some offensive linemen that we have watched on film. I’ll believe it when I see it is still in my mind. He’s an incredible talent and deserving all the recognition he has gotten."

*Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said the coaches’ message to the team was simple in light of the suspensions.

“Obviously, you hurt for those guys. Because it's a situation that I believe everyone in our programs feels like was unintentional.,” Scott said. “Wasn't anything that was done intentionally. But at the same time, the No. 1 message is that we're here to win the game. Play our four best quarters to win the game and advance. Even though this is disappointing - we got to treat it as an injury and love on those guys and we have to move on and that's really been our mindset all week.”

Scott said the entire staff is involved in making sure the players don’t ingest anything that could lead to this type of punishment.

“We have a lot of people who go to high extremes to make sure that whatever we're giving to the guys have been approved and all that kind of stuff,” Scott said. “Everybody goes back and looks through all their stuff. That's not anything we've (coaching staff this week) been involved with. I can say and I think coach Swinney said - the 100 percent feeling within our program is it was done unintentionally and that's the most disappointing part for those guys.”

*Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman is a big fan of Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow.

“They have a guy in the slot who is able to make separation and able to run every route in the route tree. I love him and respect him so much and his game,” Gilman said. “I think that is a great challenge for me. He is able to get space and he's crafty with his routes. He knows how to get in and out of breaks quick. It's a matter of me being strong and disciplined in my technique and eyes and doing what I have to do.”

What makes Renfrow special?

“Heart. It's all heart. It's what he brings to the table each Saturday,” Gilman said.
“He had to work his way to get there and he deserves what he is getting. It doesn't matter how big you are - if you are able to come out there with some heart and work hard, it will pay off.”



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