ARLINGTON, TEXAS -- Dexter Lawrence didn't get on the field for the Clemson Tigers in Saturday's 30-3 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, but he had a significant impact on his team and celebrated a trip to the national championship game afterward.
Lawrence wasn't in uniform after being suspended by the NCAA following a failed drug test for an illegal substance, but players wrote messages of support for the 350-pound defensive tackle on their jerseys and wrist tape, and Lawrence was a fixture on the sideline, shouting and celebrating with each play.
"That's just to show you the respect I have from those guys and the brotherhood here, how much we care about each other," Lawrence said.
With Lawrence sidelined, the Tigers still played stout defense, holding Notre Dame to 248 yards, including just 88 on the ground.
Defensive end Austin Bryant, who had six tackles, including three for a loss, won the team's defensive MVP award, and he said the performance was inspired by Lawrence.
"It was a next-man-up mentality," Bryant said. "Of course we miss Dex. He's a great player and a great personality to have on your defense when times get tough. But those guys stepped in and did an awesome job. I'm just really proud of them. Proud of Dex for cheering them on."
The emotion from Lawrence on the sideline was critical, he said, and it helped mask any hard feelings about his being relegated to cheerleader.
"I enjoyed being on the sideline, cheering guys on," Lawrence said while wearing a Cotton Bowl Champions hat at his locker after the game. "I just had a different role this time. I'm not selfish, and it's good to see them make plays and see I'm excited for them, not to see me down."
"Those guys did a great job stepping up and playing more snaps in a bigger role. Dex's leadership was crucial to them having success as well," Wilkins said. "Him being on the sideline, his presence and giving those guys encouragement, him having their backs, it was fun to see. I like watching those guys who don't always get the spotlight or attention make plays and do their job. I know what they do on a daily basis and how much they grind."
Lawrence has denied that he intentionally ingested the banned substance, and Clemson has been staunch in its support of him and two other suspended players. Clemson is continuing an investigation to find the source of the substance.
In the meantime, Lawrence -- a projected first-round draft pick -- said his focus is on the team, and he won't decide about his NFL future until the appeal process and playoff conclude.
"Probably after the national championship, but right now, I'm focused on trying to give these guys all I can," he said.
As for whether he's ready for the NFL, he added, "I'm a grown man."
ESPN's Dan Murphy contributed to this report.