December 27, 2012
Jadeveon Clowney is a force to be reckoned with
South Carolina sophomore Jadeveon Clowney spent the early part of December on the trophy circuit tour, whisked away from one event to the other, though ultimately coming up wanting in losing out to Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o for the Nagurski, Bednarik and Lombardi Award trophies.
He would take home the Hendrick Award as the nation's top defensive end, becoming the first sophomore in the award's 11-year history to capture the trophy.
The 6-6, 256-pound Clowney, a consensus first-team All-American and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, racked up single-season USC records in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (21.5), and needs only nine quarterback takedowns to break the career Gamecock mark and 21 stops behind the line of scrimmage to own both records.
"His first step is as explosive as any player you will see in college or the NFL," beat writer Scott Hood said. "He's like a missile off the snap, and that burst and speed is going to make him a lot of money."
But not for at least another year. Only in his second season, Clowney is obligated to return to Columbia, for one more fall per NFL Draft eligibility rules - athletes cannot turn pro until they have been out of high school for at least three years.
The Rock Hill, S.C., native will try to make the most of his junior campaign, though, telling reporters he has his sights set on becoming the first defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy, taking the reins from Te'o, who placed second this year, while paying homage to Michigan's Charles Woodson - considered the first primarily defensive player but acknowledged as someone that played wide receiver and on special teams also.
"I think a defensive player can win it," he said. "If I keep playing my game, I'll have a shot at it.
"I'd probably have to lead the country in sacks, tackles for loss, get more forced fumbles, more big plays."
His coach, Steve Spurrier won the Heisman in 1966, and cast a first-place ballot for Clowney this season - one of four the Gamecock end received - and while he doesn't think it's likely Clowney could win in an era where quarterbacks and running backs have a distinct advantage, Spurrier notes that his defensive star is a game-changer.
"He's one of those guys that has strength and speed, and quickness, and if you're going to throw a lot, you have to worry about him," he said. "Hopefully we can get ahead and get the other team throwing the football because in some of our losses, we couldn't get ahead and he couldn't do the things he's really good at."
In South Carolina's 27-17 regular-season finale victory over Clemson, Clowney helped suffocate the Tigers' potent offensive attack, terrorizing quarterback Tajh Boyd in notching 4.5 sacks.
On Tuesday, his aim will be to make life miserable for U-M junior Devin Gardner, but to do that, he'll have to best redshirt junior left tackle Taylor Lewan.
"This game is really the launching point for his Heisman campaign next year," Hood said. "He won't admit that, but that's the sense you get, and at the same time, it's not going to be easy because of Lewan; I think this could be the marquee individual matchup of the entire bowl season.
"Lewan can make himself a lot of money if he has a big game, and proves he can play against an elite defensive end.
"This is really a huge game for both of these guys because Clowney wants to show he can get it done against one of the best lineman in the country too."
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