Against Clemson this past Saturday, South Carolina was able to rush for just 81 yards in the top-ranked Tigers’ 34-10 victory in Columbia.
One reason why the Gamecocks had no running game was because of who was back in the middle of the defensive line. Clemson welcomed defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence back to the lineup after he sat out the Florida State and The Citadel games due to an ankle injury.
“I feel good getting back on the field. Being out there with my boys, I missed it,” Lawrence said on Monday as the Tigers get set to play Miami in the ACC Championship Game Saturday in Charlotte, N.C.
South Carolina was not glad to see Lawrence as the 6-foot-5, 340-pound defensive tackle clogged up the inside, forcing the Gamecocks to have to take to the air. Carolina’s longest running play was 12 yards and they averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.
“It hurt a little bit sitting out those two weeks, but I’m definitely much better,” Lawrence said. “I’m happy that I took that rest and I’m ready to finish out the season strong with my guys.”
Lawrence isn’t the only defensive player back after missing a game or two. In recent weeks, the Tigers have welcomed back cornerbacks Mark Fields and Marcus Edmond, linebacker Kendall Joseph, after sitting out The Citadel game, and safety Tanner Muse.
“I feel like we’re all pretty healthy relatively and everything,” defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “Not too many guys are beat up or bruised too bad or anything like that. I just feel like it is a championship game, and a lot is at stake and a lot is on the line.
“Fortunately for us all the guys on the D-line have a lot of experience and know how to perform on the big stage and the bright lights and everything, too. I feel like going forward we could definitely be leading the team, leading the charge, and setting the tone.”
Linebacker Chad Smith should be able to go this week after missing the last two games with a calf injury, while linebacker Tre Lamar is questionable due to a stinger that is affecting his back. Linebacker J.D. Davis is also questionable with a knee injury.
Regardless, the Tigers are starting to get healthy again on defense and it could not come at a better time. Plus, with so many players out at different times this year, a lot of the younger players have received playing time they normally would not gave received, which means the defense’s overall depth has improved as well.
“A lot of guys are back and doing well in practice and in the game,” Lawrence said. “We were missing quite a few guys, but everybody is going to get treatment every day. They are grinding in the rehab so everyone is trying to get better so that is a big key to see that, everyone is trying to get better and not just dwelling on it.”
Lawrence says he is close to 100 percent on his ankle, which he sprained against Georgia Tech on Oct. 28.
“The rest was very mandatory for me,” said the All-ACC defensive tackle. “It got my body back up under me. I felt good warming up Saturday night and just out there being the dominate guy that I am.”
Lawrence has been battling foot injuries all year. He injured his toe in the spring which required surgery and it nagged him for the better part of the season. But right when he was close to be 100 percent, he then suffered the ankle injury against Georgia Tech.
“It was more of a mental thing that I try not to think about too much,” the sophomore said. “I knew it was there. I was playing well through it. I was trying not to think about it, but at some point they kept targeting it sort of and I had to rest it a little bit and try to get a little healthier. But it did not bother me until those past two weeks.”