The North Carolina offensive playbook contains more than 100 pages and weighs nearly five pounds.
Who: North Carolina (8-4, 5-3 ACC in 2012) at No. 6 South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC in 2012)
When: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250), Columbia
Radio: WWIK-FM 98.9
Line: South Carolina by 11
Senior offensive tackle James Hurst has spent hundreds of hours over the last two years studying it from cover to cover. Hurst figures there are between 200 and 250 plays available to the coaching staff on any given snap.
After a thorough analysis, Hurst can say with a certain amount of conviction that there’s not a single “don’t block Clowney” play in the Tar Heels’ playbook.
“I went through it the other night and I looked for that play and we don’t have it,” said Hurst with a chuckle. “As far as I know our game plan is to block (Clowney) on every play.”
Something that Michigan and Georgia found out the hard way.
The Hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith during last season’s Outback Bowl and Jadeveon Clowney’s sack and forced fumble against Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray during his freshman season are just two painful reminders of what can happen if teams forget to block the South Carolina All-American defensive end.
Like a coroner conducting an autopsy, Hurst has dissected The Hit with a detached expertise to discover the exact cause of death or, in this case, Smith’s near decapitation.
“I don’t know the Michigan offense and every team does things differently,” Hurst said. “But I think that the tight end missed the block or didn’t think that (Clowney) was going to make an inside move. Maybe there was a call at the line of scrimmage and the guard might have missed the block. It happens. You don’t hear a call or you think the other guy is going to make the block and he doesn’t. We’ve got to avoid that or you can see the results.”
The Hit went viral the moment it was posted on YouTube on New Year’s Day. It’s now up to more than 4.15 million views, which breaks down to an average of 17,291 views per day, 720 per hour and 12 per second. Hurst has a couple of videos on YouTube himself. But the highlights of an offensive lineman aren’t exactly riveting video. His highlights from last year’s game against Miami had a total of 75 views as of Tuesday.
“I guess my mom got on there a few times last week,” Hurst said.
Hurst has been hearing about Clowney since the end of last season. The Hit and ESPY Award only took the hype surrounding Clowney to a stratospheric level. Hurst couldn’t turn on a television this summer without seeing The Hit again and again. Over the summer, Hurst’s family and friends, along with students around the Chapel Hill, N.C., campus, would ask Hurst about Clowney.
“I think James Hurst has probably heard more about Jadeveon Clowney than all of us put together,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said at the ACC’s annual football kickoff.
For the record, Hurst is neither afraid nor intimidated by the thought of lining up opposite Clowney on Thursday night. And no, images of Clowney don’t keep him up at night or give him nightmares as suggested by some on Twitter. And yes, he’s a little tired of answering questions from the media and friends about the matchup with his more famous opponent. But he realizes it comes with the territory of being an offensive tackle, and he knows his main objective will be keeping himself between Clowney and UNC quarterback Bryn Renner.
“He’s a great player, probably the best player in college football, but you can’t play the game scared,” Hurst said. “You can’t let him intimidate you or you’ve already lost. He’s going to make his plays and hopefully I make a few of my own. I know I won’t be out there alone.”
Hurst, a first-team All-ACC pick a year ago, is a preseason All-American and has made 36 career starts with the Tar Heels. He has faced his share of great defensive ends, including former Fort Dorchester High School star Robert Quinn, a UNC teammate and a first-round NFL pick in 2011. Hurst is widely considered to be one of the top offensive tackles in next April’s NFL Draft, possibly a first-round pick. He understands that there will be plenty of NFL scouts on hand to watch him battle Clowney.
“Everyone sees (Clowney) as a great player,” Hurst said. “I’m going to use this opportunity to kind of prove myself and show everyone that I’m capable of playing at the top level.”
As dominant as Clowney has been in his first two seasons with the Gamecocks, there have been offensive tackles that have had success against him. Take away a play or two and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan and Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson had their share of success against Clowney. Hurst has studied the video and has gained an understanding of what it might take to slow Clowney down.
“Obviously if people are having success against him, you want to see how they’re doing it,” Hurst said. “At the same time you can’t change up what you do best or how you play. Those two tackles are great players and they did a good job on him for most of the game. You see that and you kind of incorporate it into your personal game plan.
“You definitely have to have great footwork and great technique against a guy like (Clowney). You can’t get lazy. You can’t have sloppy technique because the one play you do and he’ll expose you and make a big play.”