MIAMI, FL (WIS) - When the news broke that Clemson was sending three players home for violating team rules, some thought the top-ranked Tigers were in trouble.
When the Tigers entered the third quarter trailing 17-16 without the services of Shaq Lawson (knee), some doubt may have creeped in for some fans. But Dabo Swinney and his players proved that they weren't worried about who wasn't playing. They were just as confident in the guy that wasn't on the field as they were in the guy that replaced him.
"[The suspension] wasn't a distraction," Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams said. "When I got hurt, the receiving corps just kept it going. When he went down, you could see different players stepping up today."
Early in the season, the Tigers lost Mike Williams to a unusual neck injury. With the former Lake Marion standout sidelined, Deon Cain stepped up. When Lawson was sidelined, the defense didn't doubt for a second that they'd miss a beat.
"We didn't really make any adjustments," Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said. "Austin Bryant's ready. He's been ready all year. We've had that next man up mentality so when Shaq went down, Austin went in and he played well.
In actuality, it's been the story of the Tigers' whole season. Some never thought Clemson wouldn't be in this position after losing Vic Beasley and many others starters on defense. Instead of rebuilding, the Orange Bowl champions reloaded.
"Everybody wants to talk about who's left and what you don't have," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "Sometimes, you have addition by subtraction. I mean, I don't get caught up in all that. I worry about who we've got. Vic Beasley is the eighth pick in the draft, and, 'Oh, my God, what are we going to do?' And I'm like, we've got a guy named Shaq Lawson. He's pretty good. We're going to be okay. And you go and recruit some of these other guys, that's what makes college football so much fun."
Swinney says the Tigers will take a couple days off before they begin preparing for the National Championship game. But now, they're going to enjoy being 14-0.
"I'm ecstatic right now," Boulware said. "It's an awesome feeling that Clemson's back on top. It's been 30-something years. It's about time."