COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jadeveon Clowney has people talking again — and for a reason no one expected when his final season kicked off six weeks ago.
The South Carolina All-American pulled himself from the lineup Saturday night a short time before the Gamecocks’ 35-28 victory Saturday night, saying pain from strained muscles around his ribs was too much to bear.
It’s the latest in a season of illness, injuries and ineffectiveness for the 6-foot-6, 274 pound Clowney, who figured to dominate the game like few others in college football. Instead, Clowney has spent more time explaining why he hasn’t popped off more helmets as he did in his ESPY-winning hit of Michigan’s Vincent Smith at the Outback Bowl last New Year’s that was practically shown on a non-stop highlight reel this past offseason.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was unsure if Clowney would be ready to go against Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) next Saturday.
Spurrier said his frustration came more from the way he learned his star defender would be out rather than him missing the game.
“Usually, the doctor or the trainer comes and tells you a guy will be out,” he said. “That did not happen last night.”
“On the other side,” Spurrier continued, “if a player’s in pain, I don’t want him to play, none of us do.”
When asked about Clowney’s commitment to the Gamecocks, Spurrier replied, “You’ll have to ask him that.”
Spurrier’s kept Clowney on a short leash with the media since early August, letting him speak only after games. Spurrier said that would change this week to give Clowney a chance to explain his injury.
Clowney was the country’s top prospect coming out of South Pointe High in Rock Hill two years ago. He waited until his 18th birthday, Valentine’s Day — and nearly two weeks after national signing day — to choose South Carolina over Alabama and Clemson on ESPN.
Clowney was the SEC’s freshman of the year that fall and, with 13 sacks and a school record 23 tackles for loss a year later, won the league’s defensive player of the year.
He capped it with two stellar showings, collecting 4 sacks against Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd in South Carolina’s 27-17 rivalry win and his helmet-flying hit on Smith.
Clowney looked like a sure-fire No. 1 overall pick and a strong favorite to become the first defense-first player to capture a Heisman Trophy. Things began to unravel from the start as Clowney and the Gamecocks struggled to excel in the harsh spotlight.
Clowney’s conditioning was questioned by analysts in the opening game with North Carolina on a hot, sticky August night. More questions came a week later when Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, whom Clowney joked during the summer was among several QBs scared of him, led the Bulldogs to a 41-30 victory in an SEC East showdown.
Bone spurs in Clowney’s right foot — it’s an injury he’s had since high school — have bothered him all year. He needed an IV preparing for UCF two games ago because of a stomach bug.
It was just this past Tuesday when Spurrier defended Clowney, saying it’s was near impossible to live to the expectations that followed “The Hit.”
“It’s not a one-man game. It’s a team sport,” Spurrier said. “Jadeveon is playing hard, he’s playing well, I think he’s played very hard. Got two guys blocking him about all the time.”
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward believes Clowney will show his old self at some point this season. Until Clowney returns, the Gamecocks will count on other defensive linemen to make the plays.
Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles would’ve loved to have Clowney in the lineup. “But that’s what you come to college for, when one man goes down the next one has to step up,” he said.
Spurrier hasn’t spoken to Clowney since the game, although assistant coaches have and he expects Clowney will do what he must to gete ready for Arkansas.
“Hopefully, with treatment and so forth he will be well enough to play this coming week but we will see,” Spurrier said. “It’s not a big story. He was in pain, couldn’t play. We will see if he’s going to be in pain and not play or not in pain and can play this week.”