Jadeveon Clowney asks out of game

Jadeveon Clowney’s junior season at South Carolina is becoming more of a soap opera by the week. For one of the most talented players in college football, the discussions surrounding Clowney this season rarely have seemed to regard actual football.

Saturday before the 13th-ranked Gamecocks’ 35-28 win against Kentucky, Clowney told head coach Steve Spurrier in pregame warmups that he wouldn’t be able to play because of bruised ribs.

Clowney missed practice Thursday to rest his ribs, but the coaching staff believed he would be able to play against the Wildcats. 

All of this might be just a run of bad luck for Clowney, but listening to Spurrier speak after the game, there seems to be more here than that.

Spurrier opens by saying, "I don’t want to get into all of that," which seems strange. What’s there to get into if a player has an injury and just can’t go? Why is it such a sensitive subject?

Later he says, "If he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to, simple as that." That doesn’t exactly sound like a coach speaking about a player who couldn’t go because of an injury, but rather a player who, while banged up, just decided he didn’t want to play.

Few had questioned Clowney’s desire to play since he arrived on campus before the 2011 season. He was the SEC freshman of the year that fall, then had a 13 sacks and a school-record 23 1/2 tackles for loss to lead become the league’s defensive player of the year. The capper was Clowney’s highlight-reel hit in the Outback Bowl and popped the helmet off of Michigan’s Vincent Smith.

But Clowney has not looked like that player through five games this year with 12 tackles and two sacks. Clowney’s been scrutinized since Week 1, when his conditioning was questioned after he appeared tired in the season-opening game against North Carolina, having to frequently come off the field. After the game, he told the public he was fighting a stomach virus that caused dehydration.

He dealt with another virus against UCF last week and bone spurs in his right foot throughout the fall, which he declared likely would last the entire season but wouldn’t stop him from playing. Clowney’s also watched opponents play away from him and go for large gains as some of South Carolina’s new defensive starters couldn’t make plays.

Prior to the season, some argued that Clowney, who was still a year away from being eligible for the NFL draft despite ranking as one of the nation’s best prospects as a sophomore, should sit out this season to avoid injury. It’s difficult to imagine a player doing that, considering the questions it would raise from his teammates, let alone NFL front offices.

But doesn’t that seem to be the way Clowney is approaching this season? Asking out of Saturday’s game to protect bruised ribs carries the perception of a player being ultra-conservative during his draft season (which, to be clear, is well within Clowney’s right).

Credit Spurrier for saying, "Anytime a player says he’s hurt, who are we to question?" That may have been his attempt at covering for Clowney, and this doesn’t seem like a topic that’s going to be simply washed away.

Clowney was asked after the game if he’ll play next week against Arkansas and said, "I don’t know."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.