ATHENS, Ga. – His frustrations boiled over. It was pure helplessness Jadeveon Clowney felt on the Sanford Stadium sideline, like all the muscle and speed and hype in the world meant nothing anymore.
WHO: No. 13 South Carolina (1-1) vs. Vanderbilt (1-1)
WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
LINE: USC by 13
TV: ESPN2 or ESPNU
For a defensive player, there's only so much you can do when the other team won't run plays near your zip code.
At some point Saturday night, Clowney had enough. As the sun set in Athens, and Georgia's offensive yards kept rising thanks to a high-stakes game of keep-away, South Carolina's star defensive end marched over to his coach. Here, their roles flipped.
Clowney gave the instructions.
“I told coach, 'Man, you've got to put me somewhere else. In the middle, if you want to. I don't know, somewhere I can make some plays and help my team, put us in position to win games,'” Clowney said. “Really, they just ran the ball away from me, took me out of the game.”
Georgia had the same game plan North Carolina used in USC's opener, taking Clowney out of the game by running away from him. A Gamecocks fan may think it's an opponent playing scared. A coach would say it's smart.
Clowney has six tackles in two games this season. He doesn't rank first, second or eighth on the Gamecocks defense. No, his six are tied for 12th. The big plays that defined his game the past two years have vanished. Clowney has one sack on the season, just two tackles for loss.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks haven't forced a turnover in either game.
USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said the Gamecocks coaching staff talked about Georgia's keep-away strategy at halftime. They tried to make adjustments. Clowney lined up at right and left defensive end in the second half. For the second straight game, he was at nose guard – in the middle of USC's defensive line.
“I'd hate to evaluate him,” Ward said after the game Saturday night. “I know he had a sack, and I thought he played hard, but everything went away from him. They ran the ball away from him the entire day.
“We've got other players on this team other than JD who have to step up and play.”
For USC, that's no surprise. The Gamecocks knew entering the season other players – such as senior defensive end Chaz Sutton and junior tackle Kelcy Quarles – had to hold their end. So far, they haven't. Sutton has seven tackles, 2.5 for loss with no sacks. Quarles has six tackles and just one sack. The linebackers are young and inexperienced, and it's showed.
After the game Saturday, coach Steve Spurrier said he'll talk with Ward this week. There will be defensive changes, something he reiterated during Sunday's teleconference – though Spurrier said he didn't want to “spill all the beans” on what would be different.
One thing's clear: finding a way to get Clowney more involved will be at the heart of USC's adjustments.
It won't be easy. Now, there's a blueprint, a proven way to limit Clowney's havoc. When USC hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday night in Columbia, it will likely face the same game plan it defended the past two weeks.
Commodores coach James Franklin said Monday his team will put a tight end on Clowney's side to “chip” block. There may be a running back in position to help block, too.
“The biggest thing is to be aware of him,” Franklin said of Clowney. “He is going to have an impact in the game, but what you can't afford him to do is have a huge impact on the game. … We need to know where he is every play because he is capable of big plays.”
That probably means playing more keep-away, which leads to more frustration. At some point, a game-changer like Clowney must change the game. Opponents can't rack up 41 points and more than 500 yards anymore, not on his watch. At some point, it begins to affect his reputation.
Clowney knows that. He knows something has to change. What it is, he left up to his coaches.
“I think I'm playing the right spot. I just can't do it by myself,” Clowney said. “You have to depend on the other guys up front, and I depend on the other guys up front. If they're running their way, I just tell them to step up, bow up and be a man, just take it on. You've got to step it up.
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