Clemson is still awaiting official word on whether Dexter Lawrence will miss the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame on Saturday after the star defender and two other Tigers failed drug tests leading up to the game. For now, Clemson is preparing as if the All-ACC defensive tackle and potential NFL first-round pick will not play in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
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Lawrence, tight end Braden Galloway and offensive lineman Zach Giella are facing a suspension after the NCAA found a trace of ostarine in their systems. A final decision is expected once results from a second “B sample” urine test are released.
“Hopefully today,” coach Dabo Swinney said Thursday of when Clemson could learn the result.
Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables explained Wednesday how his unit is dealing with the possibility of playing without one of its best players.
“I think we do as good a job as anybody under the circumstances at loving our guys and lifting their spirit. Coach Swinney is just amazing and finds a way to bring out the best in people, so that’s what he’s done with Dexter,” Venables said. “We’re trying to keep him as involved as we can. He’s a huge reason why we’re sitting here today and why we’ve played great defense the last three years.”
While Venables is trying to keep Lawrence involved, he is not giving the junior reps during practice. Instead, senior Albert Huggins, sophomore Nyles Pinckney and freshman Jordan Williams are getting more work at practice.
Venables has confidence in those three players, as well as All-American Christian Wilkins, and believes the Tigers will be just fine up front.
Lawrence missed two games last season with a foot injury and was less than 100 percent throughout the season. Huggins in particular stepped up when Lawrence was sidelined in 2017.
“If we are who we think we are, you’re going to be able to overcome. Injuries are part of the game, and that’s what we’re treating this like,” Venables said. “Some critical situations a year ago, whether it was Florida State to win the division, some other games when Dexter was very, very limited, Albert played really well. And he’s better now than he was then. This is just an opportunity for Albert and Nyles and Jordan to have an opportunity to contribute a little bit more. I think we’ll be just fine.”
Wilkins, who plays alongside Lawrence and is close friends with the North Carolina native, expressed his disappointment with the news but said the Tigers must move on.
“It’s obviously a tough situation, but I feel like the team has the right mindset about it. We’re a very mature team. We’re not going to let that hurt us,” Wilkins said. “Obviously we all love Dex and all the other guys, but we’ve still got a job to do. We’ve still got a game to win. We can’t let that hinder us anymore than it is. Guys are just going to have to step up. Next man up.”
Fellow defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell added that the Tigers are searching for answers as to how the ostarine ended up in Lawrence’s system.
According to the Banned Substances Control Group, ostarine was “developed in the mid 2000s to help combat bone and muscle wasting in people suffering from a range of debilitating diseases and aging but is still being clinically researched and is not yet an approved drug. Ostarine is designed to activate the androgen receptor in a similar fashion to anabolic steroids. Because it produces strength gains similar to those of anabolic steroids without unpopular androgenic side effects, the drug has become a prevalent steroid alternative for bodybuilders and athletes.”
Ferrell said that Lawrence, Galloway and Giella did not knowingly do anything wrong and added that Clemson’s nutrition staff does a great job of making sure that Clemson athletes only consume approved supplements.
“(The nutrition staff) did everything possible that you really can do. There’s really nothing that they didn’t do,” he said. “That’s a very serious thing in our program obviously because of things like this. But it’s not just about the things that you eat as far as that – whatever they tested positive for.
“It goes back to the lotions that you put on your skin, your body can adjust to that. It goes back to the different hair products that you use. We’ve got this thing called a float tank. They’re investigating that because of the Epsom salt that’s in the float tank. We’re floating in it. It could be anything. Maybe just through smelling something, fragrance, whatever. So it’s really nothing that really anybody could have controlled, I feel like.”
College Football Playoff schedule
The No. 2 ACC champion Clemson Tigers (13-0) will play No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) in the Cotton Bowl at 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
The No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners (12-1) will face No. 1 Alabama (13-0) in the Orange Bowl at 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) in Miami in a matchup of Heisman Trophy front-runner quarterbacks — Kyler Murray of Oklahoma and the Tide’s Tua Tagovailoa.