Throughout the first two weeks of the college football season, South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney has been under the microscope more than any other player in the country. After a monster 2012 season where he notched 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks -- and where he often took over games for periods at a time -- there was plenty of hype leading into this fall regarding the junior defensive end. From appearing on the cover Sports Illustrated to the discussions on radio and television as to whether Clowney should even play this year, the bar and the expectations were set too high.
This season, Clowney has received a lot of public criticism for his apparent lack of production -- six tackles, two tackles for a loss (TFLs), one sack and three quarterback hurries – through his first two games. Interesting enough, these are the exact same stats he had through two games in 2012 -- the exception being he has one more quarterback hurry this year. In addition, after being at the North Carolina game and watching the coaches copy tapes of both the North Carolina and Georgia games, Clowney has made a much bigger impact than his stats indicate.
I charted every single snap when he was on the field for the two contests. Below are the observations I've made off the coaches tape from both of Clowney's games in 2013.
(It should be noted that pressures are considered anything that causes disruption and affects the quarterback's function as a passer. This includes forcing a quick throw, making the quarterback move off the spot and hits on the quarterback.)
Clowney vs. North Carolina
The Tar Heels had a clear game plan to try to limit Clowney's impact as a pass-rusher. Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson consistently aligned the running back to Clowney's side in pass protection and had the back chip on him whenever possible. In addition, the Tar Heels heavily used the screen game and quick-hitting throws to get the ball out of QB Bryn Renner's hands.
Clowney had 36 pass-rushing attempts in the contest. He was doubled-teamed 10 times and the Tar Heels dialed up screen passes or the quick game 12 times. I had Clowney with 10 total pressures including three where he beat a double-team to apply heat on Renner. The signature play came late in the second quarter with the Tar Heels backed up near their goal line. Clowney was able to beat left tackle James Hurst with an inside swim move, bull-rushed RB A.J. Blue before chasing down Renner from behind, to limit him to a 1-yard gain. This doesn't count as a sack in the stat sheet, but NFL evaluators will take notice of this play.
ESPN also came out with a Next Level stat on Clowney's impact in the passing game. Renner completed 52 percent of his passes with Clowney on the field and 75 percent of his passes when Clowney was on the sideline. The majority of Renner's 14 completions with Clowney on the field were quick throws, with 12 coming within six yards of the line of scrimmage, including seven of those at or behind the line.
In the run game Clowney also made his presence felt. Of the 20 rushing attempts when Clowney was on the field, the Tar Heels ran to the opposite side of the center 12 times. The eight times they ran to Clowney's side he had two tackles and had a positive impact on the play on two others while facing a double-team once.
No play stands out more than a late-second quarter tackle. North Carolina ran an option at Clowney, who initially closed inside on Renner, forcing the quarterback to pitch to RB Romar Morris, who had him out-leveraged. Clowney was able to redirect and chase down Morris for a gain of 8 yards. Clowney's ability to redirect like a safety at 275 pounds will make this a play that scouts will point to during the evaluation process in terms of his athletic ability.
Clowney took some heat for his conditioning during the second half of the contest. There were reports that he suffered from a stomach virus the night prior, of which no one knows the severity and how that affected him. I was in Columbia for the game and unless you were there, it's hard to gauge the type of oppressive heat and humidity the players dealt with. It was an abnormal day in terms of weather that had me drenched in sweat in just the 30-minute period I was standing on the sideline watching warm-ups.
Clowney certainly did appear to be gassed on a few occasions but it also appeared on tape that the other 10 players on the South Carolina defense were at times as well. The only difference is that Clowney had the microscope on him on every play. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward had a steady rotation along the entire defensive line throughout the contest.
Even with all the scrutiny, Clowney still had a highly productive second half based off the coaches copy tape. In fact, six of his 10 pressures came during that half. Two pressures came in the winding minutes of the fourth quarter, almost four hours from kickoff after a nearly two-hour weather delay.
Finally, as for the play that was run a few hundred times by multiple media outlets where Clowney has his hands on hips before the snap on North Carolina's first touchdown in the second quarter. What that play failed to show during the highlight was that Clowney beat Hurst with another inside move before being hogtied and held at the legs by the senior offensive tackle while being picked up by Blue at the same time. Again this another play that goes unnoticed and will not go into the stat sheet but will be rewarded by scouts when breaking down Clowney's tape.
Clowney vs. Georgia
Watching the tape of this contest, Georgia planned to limit Clowney's ability to make a similar impact to 2012, when the Bulldogs were terrorized by Clowney during a 35-7 blowout loss in Columbia. Georgia's game plan was clear: They were going to line up and run the ball behind a pair of big-time running backs in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and they were going run it away from Clowney.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo dialed up 53 run plays in the contest. Clowney was doubled-teamed four times, and of the 39 rushes where he was on the field, the Bulldogs ran 27 to the opposite side of the center. Of the 12 plays where Georgia ran at Clowney -- including two where he was lined up over the center near the goal line in the first quarter -- he had one tackle and impacted the play in a positive way on five plays.
While the Bulldogs did a nice job of isolating Clowney in the run game, they did not have as much success in pass protection. Clowney had 20 pass-rush attempts. He was doubled-teamed five times and/or Georgia called a screen or quick throw seven times. Clowney dropped into coverage once. Clowney ended the day with a sack, five pressures and a deflected pass.
As far as effort and conditioning, Clowney was on the field for 60 of Georgia's 71 offensive snaps. He started the game with 19 straight snaps, which was more than any other South Carolina defensive lineman. Clowney played hard throughout the contest and I gave him a minus for effort on only three of 60 snaps where I felt he could have given better effort in pursuit on run plays to opposite side of the field.
Big picture for Clowney
Clowney has not been perfect by any means. He will come off the ball high at times and can learn to play with more consistent leverage. He also can go to the well too many times with a swim move. Clowney will get away with that at this level but that will come to an end quickly in the NFL, where offensive linemen will recognize this tendency and deliver a few blows to an exposed rib cage when executing the swim.
The biggest flaw I see with Clowney at this point though is a lack of defensive discipline. He can choose sides and will elect to go inside as an edge defender while surrendering outside contain. There were two examples of this coming on both of Georgia QB Aaron Murray's touchdown passes in the second half. Clowney was sucked inside with his pass-rush and allowed Murray to break contain and buy time before finding Gurley and WR Justin Scott-Wesley for touchdowns on consecutive drives. Part of this is likely because of some frustrations in trying to make more of an impact, but Clowney must stay patient and play more within the scheme.
It should also be noted that after studying the tape, Clowney is not surrounded by the talent he has had in recent years. The Gamecocks surrendered 538 yards and 41 points to Georgia this past Saturday. South Carolina replaced six starters on defense including all three linebackers. Looking at the tape, Gamecocks defenders took inconsistent angles and tackling at the second and third level have been issues. They have failed to replace the void left by safety D.J. Swearinger and "Spur" Devonte Holloman, who played a hybrid between linebacker and safety. These two brought an intimidating and physical presence in the back seven. Also opposite of Clowney, DE Chaz Sutton brings a pass-rushing element but he has not been as stout as DE Devin Taylor who was bigger and had more length setting the edge against the run.
These factors, combined with the over-the-top preseason hype, have made it nearly impossible for Clowney to live up to that hype. People want to see sacks every quarter and hits where running backs' helmets pop off like the one in the Outback Bowl against Michigan last January. These are unreasonable expectations, especially for a defensive prospect where it is much harder to decipher the impact they are having on the game as opposed to an offensive skill player.
Put this into perspective. Through two games, USC WR Marquise Lee, who is considered one of the top receivers in this year's class, has failed to catch a touchdown and has just 131 yards receiving, including just 27 yards in last week's loss to Washington State. Lee has received nowhere near the public criticism that Clowney has because it doesn't take a super scout to realize the struggles the Trojans have at the quarterback position.
Based off 2012 tape, Clowney received the highest grade we've ever given a defensive prospect. At 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, Clowney possesses a rare physical skill set that can't be coached. All his flaws are all correctable with coaching. In going through Clowney's two 2013 game tapes, I have never seen a defensive prospect game planned for as much as Clowney in the seven years I've been evaluating players.
I have seen nothing to change our grade on Clowney and scouts who I have spoken with who also were at the opener in Columbia share no concerns at this point either. A lot still needs to play out to determine where Clowney will inevitably be selected in the draft next May. The draft order and team needs will play a big part. There is no denying Clowney's talent to potentially develop into an impact rusher at NFL level. However, it is a quarterback-driven league and with this class shaping up as a deep and talented quarterback crop, it could affect where Clowney is drafted.
I will be in Columbia to watch South Carolina take on Vanderbilt. Not only will I be getting another look at Clowney and Sutton, but I am looking forward to seeing Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews. Matthews (6-3, 201) possesses a plus frame with adequate hands and the toughness to work the middle of the field from the slot. Despite a crucial drop late in the fourth quarter that resulted in a game-ending interception against Mississippi, Matthews is off to a strong start to the year, averaging over 18 yards per catch with his 16 receptions for 289 yards and two touchdowns.