COLUMBIA Jadeveon Clowney has been playing hurt for half the season, and playing probably as good or better than other top national defenders that are healthy.
Yet, nobody was comforted by the sight of Clowney, even with his shoulder pads on, limping around No. 13 South Carolinas practice field on Tuesday.
The former South Pointe High School star sat out last weeks win over Wofford with what the Gamecocks termed a knee problem, along with the same sore foot that hes been playing on, leaving his status for this weeks game at No. 12 Clemson in the air. Coach Steve Spurrier, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and defensive line coach Brad Lawing each said on Tuesday that Clowney would play against the Tigers, but how effective he would be was the question.
Clowney has had a bad foot since his days as a Stallion, and he re-aggravated the injury mid-season. The Gamecocks classified the injury as serious enough that it would require offseason surgery, and said that Clowney doesnt practice most of the week, if at all. It was compared to the broken foot that USC safety D.J. Swearinger played on for half the year last season he also didnt practice most of the time but still started every Saturday.
The knee was a new development. Ward said that an MRI performed on Monday showed a bruise under Clowneys kneecap, and while Clowney practiced on Tuesday, he was also noticeably limping afterward. Lawing said that it wasnt a huge concern.
Hes fine. He practiced today, Lawing said. He still hobbled around a little but he still practices.
The difference is that Clowney on his bad foot wasnt hobbling before. Still, there was a long time until Saturday and the knowledge that Clowney was still making plays when he played on the foot.
From what (trainer Clint Haggard) says, they did the MRI last night, so I think hell be day-to-day, but I think hell play, Ward said. If he plays, I expect him to be Jadeveon Clowney. Youre talking about one of the top players in the country.
He is that. Clowney, just a sophomore, is a finalist for three of the top national defensive awards in the game. Last week, he was named as either top-three or top-four for the Bednarik, Nagurski and Lombardi awards. With 17 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, Clowney has a shot at tying or setting USC single-season records in each category (19.5 and 10).
The sophomore has been the key to USCs defense all year, the Gamecocks flowing from the pressure of their defensive line. With Clowney on one side and Devin Taylor on the other, plus a mix of defensive tackles featuring Kelcy Quarles, Byron Jerideau and another Rock Hill native, Gerald Dixon Jr., USCs defensive plan all season has been pressure, pressure, pressure.
Clowney has the big numbers but even when he doesnt grab a statistic, he affects the opposing offense. USC would obviously love to have that going against the Tigers, who have the most prolific offense that the Gamecocks will see all year.
Clowney, who played enough to garner SEC Freshman of the Year honors a year ago but only started one game (first-round NFL draft pick Melvin Ingram started over him), only had one tackle against the Tigers in last years 34-13 USC triumph. It came when Clemsons Tahj Boyd rolled out left, trying to cut the corner, and Clowney ran him down from behind, leaped and dropped him.
Clowney has pummeled some of the best quarterbacks in the country this year, such as Georgias Aaron Murray, Tennessees Tyler Bray and Arkansas Tyler Wilson. The Gamecocks know that if Boyd is allowed to sit back and throw unopposed, it will be a long day on Saturday. Having Clowney available and back to his old self is the hope.
If we dont affect Tajh, its going to be a long night, Ward said. But they probably know we have to find a way to affect the quarterback. If we can affect the quarterback, we have a chance. If we dont, it will be a long day for us. They have a very good offense.