COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney only had two tackles against Arkansas on Saturday. But both were for losses, and his presence was enough to disrupt the Razorbacks at every turn.
At one point, the sophomore for the 12th ranked Gamecocks came back to the sideline frustrated, once again shut out from making a play during an Arkansas series. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward pointed out the Razorbacks were using up to five guys to contain him.
“I told him if he’s going to wait to get some one-on-one blocking, he’s probably going to wait until he gets to the NFL,” Ward said.
Draft experts suggest Clowney would be the No. 1 pick if he came out this season. But the NFL will have to wait until 2014, after his junior season. In the meantime, Clowney keep terrorizing Southeastern Conference quarterbacks, even with groups of guys coming after him.
“It makes you throw the ball a little faster than you normally do,” Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. “He makes you have to guess sometimes.”
Clowney came to South Carolina as the top prospect in the country, and has proven his talent from the start. SEC coaches named him freshman of the year in 2011 and he made the second team all-SEC. His eight sacked were eighth in the league, and he was the only freshman in the top 10.
Clowney has 9.5 sacks this year, third in the league and just off the season record of 10 sacks set by Melvin Ingram last season. Clowney terrorized Georgia so often in a 35-7 win that he generated some Heisman Trophy buzz. It wore off after losses to LSU and Florida, but Clowney came back and saved the day against Tennessee, swimming past the two linemen assigned to him all day, diving and reaching out with his long arms, grabbing Tyler Bray just as he tried to throw and forcing the late fumble that preserved a 38-35 win.
Ward moved Clowney just outside the guard against Tennessee. Arkansas saw that on film and shifted its line whenever Clowney moved toward the middle. Ward said he could hear the Razorbacks offensive line yell “Clowney left!” whenever the sophomore moved.
The decision freed up the Gamecocks other speedy defenders up front. South Carolina picked up four sacks and held Arkansas to 83 yards rushing,
“They had a lot of guys on me. But I expect that every game we play in,” Clowney said “You’ve got to get past it and make something happen.”
Clowney grumbles some about the way he gets treated. After the Arkansas game, he said he could have made more tackles, but he felt like offensive linemen were allowed to be a little too aggressive blocking him without getting holding penalties.
“That ain’t a call anymore in this league,” Clowney said. “They’ve got to tackle you down to the ground before an official is going to call a hold.”
While so many Razorbacks were busy keeping Clowney away, his teammates picked up three sacks Saturday and three additional tackles for losses.
Clowney passes on a leadership role so far with his defense, and his laid back demeanor shows up on the field. Clowney got one penalty for roughing the passer Saturday, and it appeared Wilson embellished the small bit of contact. Clowney shook it off.
“I get frustrated, but I try to keep my cool down on the field,” Clowney said. “They got to tackle you down to the ground before an official is going to call a hold.”
Ward keeps polishing his young talent. He has said many times that Clowney has gotten this far on his freakish talent alone and will need to work on his fundamentals if he wants to be an all-star defensive lineman in the NFL.
Clowney is responding, and Ward keeps setting up schemes like what his defensive coaches call the rabbit package, throwing Clowney and three other fast, disruptive defensive ends on the line to create chaos.
“Clowney was rated the No. 1 player coming out of high school,” Ward said. “So we expect this from him.”