Clemson University

Final thoughts, prediction as Clemson faces Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl

Dabo Swinney responds to Clemson suspensions being upheld

Dexter Lawrence, two others to miss Cotton Bowl
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Dexter Lawrence, two others to miss Cotton Bowl

It has been anything but a typical week for Clemson leading up to the College Football Playoff.

Three Tigers players are suspended for the matchup against Notre Dame, but as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Friday morning, “They’re not going to cancel the game.”

Clemson must put the distractions aside and put together a complete performance against the Irish to advance to the national title game.

While star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence will not play against Notre Dame after he was suspended alongside tight end Braden Galloway and offensive lineman Zach Giella for testing positive for the banned substance ostarine, the Vegas odds have not changed much. Clemson was favored by as much as 13 points and is currently a 12.5-point favorite for the Cotton Bowl after the line open at 10.5.

All eyes will be on Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence on Saturday as he faces his biggest test of his young career.

The Georgia native has played well throughout the 2018 season and has completed 65 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,606 yards. He has 24 touchdowns with only four interceptions.

But this will be the best defense Lawrence has faced yet. The Irish are No. 20 in total defense and have allowed less than 200 passing yards per game.

If Clemson can get its running game going with Travis Etienne, Tavien Feaster, Adam Choice and Lyn-J Dixon, it would really help out Clemson’s freshman quarterback.

Etienne is healthy and fresh and ready to carry the load in the College Football Playoff. If the Tigers can establish Etienne early it will take the pressure off of Lawrence and open things up for him to find Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, Hunter Renfrow and Clemson’s other receivers.

Defensively the Tigers still have plenty of talent, even without Dexter Lawrence. Albert Huggins and Nyles Pinckney will fill in for Lawrence and both have received significant playing time throughout the year and should be capable of taking on a heavier workload.

Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, Clemson’s other starting defensive linemen, will be extra motivated to play well as Lawrence cheers them on from the sideline.

The Tigers secondary has been a weakness at times this season, but with nearly a month to prepare the group should improve. Brent Venables is a master when it comes to getting his unit ready to play after a break, and Clemson should slow down Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense enough to pull out a victory.

Prediction: Clemson 37, Notre Dame 27