At last, it’s Clowney season
It’s finally time for Clowney season.
For the next four months or so, college football’s focus will be
locked onto Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina’s fearsome, 6-foot-6,
274-pound defensive end.
”I know he’s ready to get things going,” said Chaz Sutton, the
Gamecocks’ other defensive end. ”We all are.”
The anticipation for Clowney’s year began last New Year’s when
he dislodged the helmet of Michigan runner Vincent Smith at the
Outback Bowl, sending it flying like a champagne cork.
His final year starts Thursday night – ”Clowney we treat him
like a senior. He’s leaving,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier
says – when the sixth-ranked Gamecocks open the season against
North Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium. Clowney’s been lowkey
since the Gamecocks opened camp per Spurrier’s orders, yet has
continued pushing himself in workouts for a strong college
Spurrier glanced over Saturday at the end of workouts and saw
Clowney leading the way in wind sprints. ”So I said, `That’s a
good sign when he’s leading the pack of linemen over and back,”’
Spurrier said. ”So I think he’s ready to go and our team’s ready
That’s very bad news for opposing quarterbacks. Clowney put up
13 sacks last year and stands eight away from the Gamecocks’
all-time mark of 29 set by Eric Norwood.
Clowney’s skills were evident in high school and he’s only
improved in college. He ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash time this
summer after getting challenged by South Carolina defensive
coordinator Lorenzo Ward to improve his conditioning so he could be
more consistent on the field. Talk to any coach or player who had
to prepare for Clowney and they don’t share Ward’s worries.
Georgia coach Mark Richt called Clowney the best football player
in the world. North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said Clowney’s the
most difficult defender he ever prepared for, even surpassing
ex-NFL star Brian Urlacher.
Clowney ”plays at a different speed than other guys because he
is faster than other guys, and he plays hard,” Fedorda said. ”I’m
trying to remember which game it was where I saw them hand the ball
off to the back on a sweep, and he broke and I think Clowney caught
him about 25 yards down the field.”
James Hurst, the Tar Heels left tackle who’ll match up against
Clowney, has spent the offseason watching film and still isn’t sure
there are any weaknesses in his game. ”I just think it’s rare to
find a guy with such speed and power,” Hurst said. ”The plays
that he does make are game changing. It’s rare that you see
Clowney continues to wow his teammates, too. He and teammate
Gerald Dixon overturned a tackling sled at one of the Gamecocks
early summer practices. At a Aug. 17 scrimmage, South Carolina
offensive lineman couldn’t keep Clowney off quarterback Connor Shaw
in two series.
”We act like we didn’t even try to block Clowney,” a
frustrated Spurrier said after the session. ”Maybe we’re afraid to
block him, I don’t know. Hopefully, he’s that good but I’ve seen
other people block him.”
Hurst and his North Carolina linemates get the first chance to
try. Tar Heels offensive coordinator Blake Anderson won’t change
his offense scheme to concentrate on Clowney and his amazing first
step. It’ll be up to everyone on the offense to do their jobs, make
plays and keep moving the ball despite the pressure Clowney’s
likely to apply.
Clowney typically makes his mark at the game’s biggest juncture.
As a freshman his sack and strip of Georgia quarterback Aaron
Murray led to a Gamecocks defensive touchdown that proved the
difference in a 45-42 victory. Last year, Clowney sacked Tyler Bray
and caused a fumble with the Vols driving for a go-ahead score late
in South Carolina’s win. And, of course, there was ”The Hit” at
the Outback Bowl where Clowney shook off a strong game-long effort
by Michigan lineman Taylor Lewan to regain the ball for the
Gamecocks on the way to victory.
Count on Clowney getting his share of sacks and tackles, too,
”You didn’t shut Michael jordan down when he played,” Anderson
said. ”He was going to score some points. You don’t shut LeBron
James down when they play. So (Clowney is ) that kind of a guy,
he’s that caliber of player.”
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this story from
Chapel Hill, N.C.