Coming into his junior season, Clowney was considered a front-runner for the Heisman trophy, with “the hit” on Michigan’s Vincent Smith in last year’s Outback Bowl as the face of his campaign. However, after a lackluster start against North Carolina, with only three total tackles, some questions were raised about Clowney’s effort on a few plays where the ball was ran to the opposite side and he appeared to pull up and not pursue the back side of the play. Leading up to the Georgia- South Carolina matchup, much was made about Clowney’s lack of an impact in USC’s first game. And although his stat line again appeared to be below average by what we are accustomed to seeing from Clowney, his impact was still felt if you look at the film closely.
After suffering an apparent ankle injury midway through the first half, Clowney fought through and was on the field for nearly 75% of UGA’s offensive snaps. Even with a bum ankle, Clowney still exploded into the backfield multiple times, once resulting in one of the few times throughout the game that Todd Gurley was brought down behind the line of scrimmage. Other plays, while few and far between that were run to his side of the field, were disrupted by Clowney and resulted in short gains or tackles for loss but Clowney’s statistical impact still doesn’t show that.
So is all criticism and criticalness of Clowney warranted after only two games? In my opinion, no.
Only time will tell if Clowney will become the first primarily defensive player since Charles Woodson to win the Heisman, but this could very possibly end up being the second straight year a defensive player finishes in the top two of the Heisman trophy trustee voting (Manti Te’o in 2012-2013). South Carolina coaches need to find more creative ways to get Clowney involved as the season continues, otherwise the “run away from Clowney” technique implored by both North Carolina and Georgia will continue to be used throughout the rest of non-conference and SEC play. Still likely the consensus No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft, the concern for Gamecock’s fans across the southeast is that if any more losses mount for USC, Clowney’s desire to compete will decrease in the hopes of holding out for next May’s draft date. As an admirer of talented football players and SEC football in general, hopefully Clowney’s impact can increase as the season progresses along with his conditioning and adding to his list of big time hits.