COLUMBIA — Perhaps the most intriguing matchup in Tuesday’s Outback Bowl between South Carolina and Michigan is between USC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan.
Clowney, a sophomore, is the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Lewan, a fourth-year junior, is a potential first-round pick in next spring’s draft. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. believes Lewan could be the second offensive tackle taken, behind Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel.
Of course, USC could line up its other end, Devin Taylor, against Lewan at times. But Clowney has watched plenty of film of Lewan and admires his style.
“I just want to face the best,” Clowney said. “Obviously, he’s one of the best. He moves his feet better than any tackle I’ve went up against. His feet just move at all times. Other guys like to plant their feet and turn. He moves his feet and sits back and shuffles.
“So I’ll have to get up on him a lot. He doesn’t give up on blocks. He’s always running downfield, all the way downfield to block. I love his game and the way he plays. He plays with attitude and effort.”
Lewan is 6-8 and 309 pounds and nimble for his size. He was the Big Ten’s offensive lineman of the year. Clowney, 6-6, 256 pounds, was named Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year by the league’s coaches. USC coach Steve Spurrier said Clowney is “definitely as good of pass rusher as I’ve ever coached.”
Jeffery reflects on coaches
USC senior Damario Jeffery, the backup mike linebacker, was in a reflective mood after USC’s first in Tampa, Fla.
Tuesday is the final game for Jeffery and backup will linebacker Quin Smith, as well as the starting mike, will and spur linebackers — Reginald Bowens, Shaq Wilson and DeVonte Holloman. Jeffery spoke about the changes he has seen in Spurrier during his career.
“I think he found his mojo again,” Jeffery said. “Before, I couldn’t joke with him. Now, I can joke with him and he laughs, he talks trash. He never lost his mojo as far as coaching. Great coaches find a way to adapt to their players.
“We like to joke and play around. He didn’t like it at the beginning. He would always (say), ‘We have a bunch of gigglers. I don’t like gigglers.’ Now, he’s a little giggler himself. You’ll see him out there laughing with us. Before we were like, ‘Oh, coach Spurrier is coming. We better be quiet.’”
Jeffery also talked candidly about the changes he has seen this season with Lorenzo Ward taking over for Ellis Johnson as defensive coordinator. USC’s defense has been about as successful as it was in 2011. The Gamecocks are allowing 312.3 yards per game this season, No. 11 nationally, compared to 267.7 last season, which ranked No. 3.
“Coach Johnson was more of the uptight, old fashioned- coach: ‘Be quiet, listen to me, this is how I want to do it, this is how you do it,’” Jeffery said. “Coach Ward kind of gives a little more leeway. He’s more of a player’s coach. We have a lot more confidence (with) going to coach Ward and saying, ‘We don’t think this is going to work.’ And he might throw it out. Coach Johnson would ask that same thing and say, ‘Hey, anybody stand up if y’all don’t think this play is going to work.’ And everybody would be like, ‘I’m not going to say nothing.’ ”
Spurrier coming full circle
Spurrier was asked several questions during his first chat with Tampa-area media Thursday about his experience coaching the Tampa Bay Bandits of the U.S. Football League from 1983-85, the league’s final season.
Spurrier went 35-21 with the Bandits and his pass-happy offensive style, known as Bandit Ball, was popular among fans. Spurrier was the only coach the Bandits ever had. Their first game, in March of 1983, was also his first as a head coach. He was 37 years old when he debuted.
Now, Spurrier is 67 and in his 28th season as a head coach at the college or pro level. If USC wins Tuesday, it will be 22-4 over the past two seasons — Spurrier’s best back-to-back seasons since Florida went 22-3 in 1996 and 1997, with a national title in 1996.
Spurrier didn’t reminisce much about his USFL experience Thursday, but said he is still going strong partly because he doesn’t find his job incredibly taxing.
“It is not as stressful as some people make it out to be, coaching, when you’ve got a good staff like we have,” he said. “These guys can all go recruit and get players committed. I do my part, but it’s not like I have to go to see 30, 40 recruits, like maybe we used to do in the old days.”