Sapakoff: South Carolina’s Clowney Show lacks sizzle
COLUMBIA — Buildup? Mega. Elvis never had such an intro.
Versatility? Check. Jadeveon Clowney lined up at five positions Thursday night in No. 6 South Carolina’s 27-10 victory over North Carolina.
But fans of Clowney carnage will have to wait until next week at Georgia for one of those signature plays that inspire creative Palmetto State artists.
It was a mixed bag. That rarest of defensive ends — a Heisman Trophy candidate — was good, not tremendous. The South Carolina junior got tired and took breaks.
“Did you watch what I was watching?” head coach Steve Spurrier said when asked about Clowney’s frequent gasping. “We’ll try to work on conditioning for the entire team real soon.”
Clowney was the nose tackle on North Carolina’s very first snap, after pacing up and down the line of scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium as if to make Tar Heels and TV viewers guess.
Unofficially, he played a total of 56 snaps.
36 at right defensive end.
12 at left defensive end.
Four at left defensive tackle.
Three at right defensive tackle.
One at nose tackle.
But the Gamecocks rarely moved Clowney within the same series of downs. Look for that at Georgia.
He finished with three tackles, three quarterback hurries, no sacks. He was off-sides once and was the victim of right tackle Kiaro Holts’ chop block after the weather delay.
“Jadeveon almost had a sack,” Spurrier said. “At the end of the (weather) break I said, ‘You won’t get shut out now.”
Crtics? Clowney said to look at the scoreboard.
“Ten points in the ballgame. Hold them up on the goal line,” he said. “As long as we win, that’s all I care about.”
Feeling the heat
It wasn’t Clowney’s first public appearance since making the tackle heard ‘round college football. He’s been in L.A. (ESPY Awards) and Alabama (SEC Media Days) and Fan Appreciation Day (Columbia) to discuss the smash hit that knocked Michigan running back Vincent Smith’s helmet off and forced a fumble (recovered by you know who) at the Outback Bowl.
But it was Clowney’s first football game since New Year’s Day.
Clowney was winded at times. Of course, it was 95 degrees at kickoff.
You try chasing major college athletes around a big field for a few hours.
He didn’t make big plays.
North Carolina obviously game-planned to prevent that. Example: Clowney lobbied his way off the bench for a third-and-6 play in the fourth quarter but was cut-blocked by James Hurst as quarterback Bryn Renner completed an 11-yard pass for a first down.
Hurst, the Tar Heels’ left tackle, held his own in one-on-one blocking assignments. With 30 pro scouts on hand Thursday night, the 6-7, 305-pound senior probably made himself some serious cash.
But Hurst, a top NFL draft prospect, is one of the two best left tackles Clowney will face this season (Tennessee’s Tiny Richardson is the other).
Then again, Michigan hit and all, Clowney similarly struggled in the Outback Bowl against Wolverines tackle Taylor Lewan, another projected 2014 first-round pick.
Arm-chair strategists have been wondering all summer how Gamecock foes might try to neutralize the Clowney machine.
A 320-pound fullback chipping in on double teams?
Two tight ends loading up on Clowney’s side?
North Carolina tried none of the above. There was no Tar Heel blue picket fence, nothing newfangled at all.
And the Gamecocks won without much heavy lifting. That starts next week in Athens.
“First game of the season, you struggle every first game,” Clowney said, recalling his previous college openers against East Carolina and Vanderbilt. “It’s going to get better.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff