Some surprising news came down the pipeline early Friday morning: star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence would not play in the Cotton Bowl due to a failed drug test. This weakens what is thought to be the best defensive line in the country and certainly one of the best all time. While Lawrence was not the only player impacted by the chemical compound ostarine, which is believed to be the substance barring him, tight end Braden Galloway and offensive lineman Zach Giella from playing, he is certainly the most impactful loss.
His expected backup is senior Albert Huggins, who played in his stead when he was injured for a few games last year, as well as redshirt sophomore Nyles Pinckney who has recorded over 100 snaps in rotational duty this year.
This could open up big things for a Notre Dame offense that ranks 43rd in rushing yards per game for the year. Quarterback Ian Book could also benefit from a more controlled line of scrimmage and more time in the pocket. Book has had a successful year replacing Brandon Wimbush, who was replaced in similar fashion to Kelly Bryant. He has led the Fighting Irish to a perfect 12-0 record (Notre Dame did not play in a conference championship), while averaging 8.8 yards per attempt and ranking eighth in the nation in quarterback rating. The stats don’t tell the whole story, but they do frame it fairly well showing that Book is not your average collegiate quarterback and will prove more than a handful for a Clemson defense that ranks in the top five in all major statistics.
The rest of the Irish’s offense is lead by senior running back Dexter Williams (921 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) and top receiver senior Miles Boykin (803 yards, eight touchdowns). The truly powerful part of the Notre Dame offense is that there really is no singular go-to guy. Every player contributes to the sum total effectiveness of the team.
As if that weren’t enough, the Fighting Irish also happen to be just as balanced on defense. They rank 30th in passing yards allowed per game and 26th in rushing yards per game allowed. There aren’t any glaring holes they have which is precisely why Notre Dame has been so good all year long. Opposing coaches can’t find obvious weaknesses, so they turn to what they know works against other teams they have played, but it’s never quite enough. Clemson is one of the only teams, if not the only one, to outrank Notre Dame in every single team statistic so far listed.
It will likely come down to the fourth quarter and one or two plays that could have gone one way or the other, but this game will be one thing for sure: must-see football.
The Cotton Bowl will be played at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. EST.