CLEMSON, S.C. — Count Clemson’s Shaq Lawson among those who are glad the College Football Playoff title game isn’t taking place on Jan. 6 — as opposed to the actual kickoff date five days later.
On Tuesday, the star of the Tigers defense acknowledged his knee injury — which he sustained last week — has improved over the last few days; but he also said that progress would be moot, if the Clemson vs. Alabama title clash would be occurring within the next 24 hours.
“How I feel when it comes to game time? Hopefully, I’ll be feeling right,” said the defensive end, who has racked up 10.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss this season, while headlining a Clemson defense which ranks ninth nationally against the pass (177.2 yards allowed per game). “I’ll say if we played tomorrow, I couldn’t be able to play — that’s how i feel right now.”
In the course of its perfect season to date, top-ranked Clemson (14-0) has limited the opposition to 17 points or less eight times — a stingy stat that includes vaunted Oklahoma in last week’s Playoff semifinal (the Tigers won 37-17).
But facing a balanced, powerful and proficient Alabama offense likely represents Clemson’s greatest challenge of the season — a Herculean task which would become more daunting without Lawson in the lineup.
“We need to get to (Alabama tailback Derrick Henry) before he gets started,” said Lawson, detailing how the Tigers defense must halt the momentum of Henry around the line of scrimmage, preventing a number of ‘downhill’ runs between the tackles.
Henry, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, leads the nation in rushing (2,061 rushing yards, 25 TDs) and has scored at least one touchdown in 19 straight games — an SEC record.