Shortly after making one of the loudest statements by a single player in the history of the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry, Jadeveon Clowney had another proclamation last November.
”I don’t know how it feels to lose to Clemson,” Clowney, a defensive end, said after USC’s 27-17 victory over the Tigers in Clemson. ”I’m not going to know how it feels either because we ain’t losing to them as long as I’m here.”
It was big words backed by a dominant performance that few fans from either side will ever forget. Clowney sacked Clemson QB Tajh Boyd 4.5 times, setting a rivalry and Death Valley record.
“As a defense, we feed off of each other so seeing the plays that Clowney made, we were all just hyped for him,” USC cornerback Jimmy Legree said. “We were just thrilled he was making plays.”
Twelve months later, Clowney looks to wreak havoc against the No. 6 Tigers (10-1) again as the No. 10 Gamecocks (9-2) hope to live up to Clowney’s promise with a USC-record fifth consecutive win in the series Saturday at 7 p.m. in Columbia.
“Hopefully Jadeveon’s ready to have his best game here Saturday,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said.
In all likelihood, it’ll be the last time Clowney, who hasn’t been made available to the media since Nov. 16, faces the Tigers; the junior, who can choose to be honored with USC’s seniors Saturday, is expected to enter the NFL draft and be an early first-round selection.
“He’s the whole package,” Clemson right guard Tyler Shatley said. “He’s a big-bodied guy, fast, good with his hands and can do it all.”
That brings up one of the biggest questions heading into this rivalry game: Will Clowney look like the dominant figure from last year’s game or the guy who’s been limited statistically this season?
It would’ve been hard in the offseason to convince anyone that after playing nine games, the junior pass-rushing specialist would have two sacks. This season hasn’t gone the way many believed it would. It started with a wild summer in which Clowney won a televised award for his big hit against Michigan in the January Outback Bowl.
“We’ve got to admit, Jadeveon had a wonderful summer, now,” Spurrier said. “He was out at the ESPY’s, met Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and all those guys.”
He then went on a talking tour; every media outlet in the country wanted a moment of his time. And he made big news at SEC media days when called Boyd, among other quarterbacks, “scared.”
“You definitely take offense because it’s kind of a shot at you,” Shatley said. “You couldn’t protect (Boyd) so that’s the reason he was sacked. You definitely take it personal, but at the same time you have brush it off. Stuff like that is said all the time. Just got to play our game.”
In a season built by unbelievable hype, Clowney has struggled getting off the ball consistently early in the season. His stamina was called into question, and when he missed a game against Kentucky, so was his commitment to college football.
But he’s also dealt with a bone spur in his foot that’s greatly limited his practice time and forced him to miss plays on Saturdays. Clowney will have surgery in the offseason to clean out the foot.
One of the biggest reasons for not putting up eye-popping stats is the fact that opponents all year have designed their offenses to go away from the playmaker, who’s six sacks shy of the school’s career mark.
Clowney’s still affecting offenses with pressure and game plans that take teams out of their comfort zone — he’s recorded 8.5 tackles for a loss — but he’s also missed on a few “gimme” sacks.
Will Clemson keep up the trend of trying to take Clowney out of the game by changing some of its scheme?
“Everybody this year’s done something different against Jadeveon and I’m sure they will, too,” USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “A lot of people are putting backs on him. Some teams have put three people on him so I’m sure Clemson will have a plan for him. We’ll have a plan for them if they have plan for him.”
Saturday offers him a chance to put some critics at ease on a big stage. Both teams are ranked in the top 10 for the first time ever in the series, so motivating the Rock Hill native this week is not something the coaches are concerned with.
“(Clowney) is motivated anyway,” Ward said. “He loves to play the game, but I think he’ll be really get up for this game because it’s a state rivalry.”