The backlash against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was predictable: He entered this season hyped as a sure-thing No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, and so the first time he looked like anything less than a prime Lawrence Taylor, there was going to be grumbling that maybe Clowney wasn’t as good as everyone said.
But in one half of football today against Tennessee, Clowney pretty well silenced any talk that he’s anything other than the most talented defensive player to come out of college football in years. Although his South Carolina teammates have not played particularly well against the Volunteers, Clowney has been a one-man wrecking machine.
On Tennessee’s second play from scrimmage, the Volunteers ran a shovel pass to receiver Alton Howard. But as soon as Howard got the ball, Clowney had already sidestepped a block and entered Tennessee’s backfield, where he instantly wrapped Howard up for a loss of five yards.
Later in the first quarter, Clowney blew past Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson (who’s viewed by some as a likely first-round pick himself) and destroyed Tennessee running back Rajion Neal behind the line of scrimmage. Clowney’s hit on Neal was reminiscent of Clowney’s famous hit against Michigan running back Vincent Smith, although unlike Smith, Neal managed to keep both his helmet and the football.
Another tackle for loss came when Tennessee tried to run around the left side and had a tackle and guard double team Clowney. Two blockers weren’t enough, as Clowney simply took both of them with him toward the sideline before shedding the block and bringing down the ball carrier.
In the most bizarre play of the game, Clowney wrapped Neal up in the backfield the moment Neal got the handoff from quarterback Justin Worley, and Neal panicked and tossed the ball back toward Worley immediately. I’ve never seen anything quite like that happen before, but I’ve never seen any defensive lineman wreak havoc on an opposing offense the way Clowney has, either.
There may be legitimate questions about whether Clowney takes too many plays off. And the truth is, it was always premature to label Clowney as a sure-thing first overall pick because there are no sure things this far out from the next draft. But anyone who’s wondering why Clowney is viewed as a once-in-a-generation talent just needs to see his first half against Tennessee.