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Clowney's Heisman push starts slowly

Jadeveon Clowney pressures Tar Heels QB Bryn Renner.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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COLUMBIA, S.C.

Jadeveon Clowney is an event now, which will take some getting used to considering that we’ve all been trained to look at the quarterback at all times.

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We need new training. Clowney is going to provide it, going to change the way we watch football. He has to if he’s going to be the first defensive-only player to win the Heisman Trophy. The momentum is with him, but he lost ground Thursday night.

The defensive end had three tackles, no sacks, three quarterback hurries and, most important, no YouTube specials as South Carolina opened the season with 27-10 win over North Carolina.

“Obviously, Jadeveon almost had a sack,’’ South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said sarcastically. “I told him during the (fourth-quarter) break (for a lightning storm) that he ought to be well-rested now. Maybe he won’t get shut out.’’

He was shut out. Clowney was so tired that defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward told him he’s going to have to watch what he eats next week before the Georgia game so “we can play him three, four, five plays at a time.’’

Keep in mind: It was about 1,000 degrees in Columbia, and North Carolina was running the hurry-up. And Clowney said he was suffering the night before with a stomach virus, and ate only a banana and some grapes before the game.

Details. Excuses? No one wants to hear them from an event like Clowney. Just more YouTube stuff, please.

It wasn’t a Heisman game, but that has different meanings. Clowney was good. He had impact. On one play in the second quarter, he ran around an offensive lineman, then through a running back, and North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner stepped up out of necessity and someone else tackled him for a 2-yard gain.

Next play: Renner dropped back and Clowney already was nearly there. Renner rushed his throw. Incomplete.

It was third-and-8. It was all Clowney.

Did you notice? Sitting at Williams-Brice Stadium, I found myself focusing on him the whole night, more so than I’ve ever focused on a defensive lineman before. You don’t want to miss the next moment. You figure he is dominating, intimidating, blowing up the offensive line all night.

Reality hits. Careers are measured in highlight clips and Instagram now. That might make Clowney a hard sell, actually. He is playing a position with nuance.

You can scheme away from a defensive lineman, even if he is switching positions, inside and out to confuse the offense. You cannot find a scheme that keeps Johnny Manziel from getting the ball in his hands.

People are not going to be saying today, “Did you see the way North Carolina kept running away from Clowney? Unreal!’’

The easiest thing to see, with our highlight-film, quarterback-watching eyes, was Clowney wearing down, tiring out. Not running fullspeed when the play went the other way.

Clowney sat down in the postgame news conference and told us he was ready to hear “all those questions about conditioning.’’

He is aware. He was clipped late in the game, maybe a cheapshot, but he said, “I really don’t pay no clips no attention.’’

And on North Carolina’s all-ACC left tackle James Hurst, Clowney said, “I wasn’t really impressed like I was with the guy for Michigan.’’

In some ways, maybe this was preseason. For Clowney, but also for the fans who got a little training in what to look for. That’s the hope, anyway.

We tell all of our kids that the best athletes go to defense, that defense matters most. And then the Heisman, every year, goes to offense, to the guy making individual plays on TV. Not just the Heisman, either, but the glory, too.

Clowney is the favorite now because of The Hit last year against Michigan in the Outback Bowl. If you haven’t seen it ...

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Just kidding. You’ve seen it.

And I think that’s what people were expecting of him on Thursday, too. More of that. More show.

He’ll do it as the year goes on. But is that how he’ll be judged? He needs another signature moment, and probably will need four or five of them. He’s going to need 20 sacks, too.

And he’ll need for South Carolina to run for an SEC title, or at least close. Clowney already has changed things enough that people can see a defensive lineman leading a team.

Next week, South Carolina is at Georgia in one of those early-season games that actually means something in the national title race.

So it won’t be preseason for Clowney anymore. Not for us, either.

Tagged: North Carolina, South Carolina, Bryn Renner, Jadeveon Clowney

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