CLEMSON — Jadeveon Clowney has made plenty of left tackles look silly, and Clemson senior Brandon Thomas took his medicine last year when South Carolina’s star defensive end recorded 41/2 sacks in the Gamecocks’ fourth straight series victory.
It doesn’t sit well with Thomas, his performance last year. Much as Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and the senior class has one more chance to make amends, this is Thomas’ final crack at Clowney as collegians.
“I believe I’m good enough where I don’t have to change anything to focus more on (him). I just have to focus more on me,” Thomas said. “I’m not going to change my technique or anything; just practice like I always practice.”
Thomas keeps it simple when asked what went wrong last year.
“Last year, I don’t think I was as physical as I am now. My technique has gotten better,” Thomas said. “Those two things will help me a lot in this game.”
Even in times this year when Clemson’s offense wasn’t humming along, the coaches have rarely said an unkind word about Thomas. At one point, offensive coordinator Chad Morris identified Thomas as the only Tiger playing steady on his side of the ball.
But the call has been made for Thomas to raise his game with Clowney coming.
“Brandon did not play well last year against him,” Morris said. “But Brandon has been playing very well this year. He’s been the most consistent player that we’ve got, and he’s playing exceptionally well. That’ll be a great challenge for him.”
As far as whether Thomas has to remember past failures against the Gamecocks Saturday, Morris said: “I think we all better approach this week a little personally. It ain’t just Brandon; we all are.”
Clowney has just two sacks this year, but Thomas is well aware of the caliber of player he’ll be facing.
“It’s just playing hard, going right at him,” Thomas said. “Hopefully he brings his A-game and I bring mine.”
Even though the splits have been haunting for Clemson’s offense, comparing its effort against the USC matchup to everybody else, Morris won’t sound the alarm.
“As far as approaching this game compared to our games in the past here, I think that would be the absolute worst thing we could do, is feel like we’ve got to change everything up,” Morris said. “They’re not going to change everything up. You’ve got to be who you are.”
In each of the last two years with Boyd at quarterback and Morris on staff, Clemson has averaged 22.5 and 26.4 first downs per game; but against the Gamecocks, the Tigers had 12 first downs in 2011 and 18 in 2012.
“There’s going to be an opportunity, about four or five plays in this game, that you’re going to have to make,” Morris said. “It’s going to come down to that. We’re going to play 85, 90 or 100 plays on offense, and however many they play … anytime you get two evenly-matched football teams, it’s going to come down to four or five plays.”
Clowney has moved all over the field in defensive formations, which means the Gamecocks are certainly likely to pick on Thomas’ bookend, rookie right tackle Isaiah Battle.
“We’re in there talking, watching film together. We point out key things to watch for,” Thomas said. “They like to move him around a lot. I think Isaiah will be ready for him.”
Serving most of the year as Thomas’ backup, Battle has started the past two games to give some stability to a revolving door at right tackle. The 6-7 redshirt freshman won’t be made available for interviews leading into the South Carolina game.
“He’s played well. He still makes mistakes, which you would expect from a young guy,” Morris said. “But his athleticism is a huge advantage for us. His strengths are his arm length is unbelievable, being able to use his hands.”
On the other hand
While Battle’s the rookie to watch on Clemson’s offense, strong safety Jayron Kearse will get his first taste of South Carolina when he makes his second career start in place of Travis Blanks, who suffered a knee injury (torn ACL) last Saturday.
“Jayron’s not a puppy no more. He’s made plays,” strong safety Robert Smith said. “This is the 12th game, so it’s time for him to shine now. I think Jayron’s up for the challenge.”
Kearse has made 36 tackles and three interceptions in 10 games of action, and the 6-4 safety is known for making big plays as well as allowing them occasionally.
“That’s the talk with the safeties all the time. There’s always a time to take a risk, and a time to not take a risk,” Smith said. “That’s a factor into every game.”