COLUMBIA, S.C. – The vaunted, unbeaten Georgia offense showed up here Saturday averaging 536 yards and 48.2 points a contest, another video game offense in a sport awash with them.
Then South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney spent the night leaping Georgia offensive lineman, leaping Georgia running backs, doing everything except leaping what passes for tall buildings around here.
The Gamecocks won 35-7. Clowney finished with four solo tackles, two for a loss and one sack, which doesn’t come close to describing his impact as the leader of South Carolina's fierce front four against the fifth-ranked Bulldogs.
Georgia managed just 224 total yards, 75 of them on their final, game-out-of-reach drive that ended a 58-minute shutout. Quarterback Aaron Murray, who ranked third in passing nationally coming into the game, was 11-for-31 for just 109 yards. Highly-touted freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who averaged a combined 192.8 yards a game, finished with just 76 yards total.
This was a devastating performance, and while there were brilliant performances across the defense, there is no debate about who sets the tone for South Carolina: big No. 7 coming off the edge.
So after beating Georgia to a pulp, Clowney was asked a simple question: here in the year of the offense, here in the year of cartoon-like stats, here in a year when seemingly everyone can score, shouldn’t the rare defensive player who can stop the onslaught win the Heisman?
“Oh, I hope so,” Clowney said before laughing at both the suggestion and implication. “I don’t know if [one would] though.”
Then he just laughed some more, although his interest in being that candidate was obvious.
The season’s not even half over, so the Heisman chase has plenty of twists and turns to come. Still, Clowney’s chance shouldn’t be some half-joke novelty.
After Florida State beat Clemson, many assumed the only thing that could keep the Seminoles out of the BCS national championship game was an end-of-season matchup with arch-rival Florida, as they have no other games against ranked opponents. Things appeared to be going true to form on Saturday, as Florida State jumped out to a 16-0 halftime lead on North Carolina State. There was little to indicate the Wolfpack would be able to do anything against the vaunted FSU defense to stage a comeback.
The Seminoles led 16-10 and had the ball with under three minutes to play, but they were only able to advance the ball one yard on three running plays. Due to Wolfpack timeouts, only 17 seconds came off the clock. As a result, with 2:38 to play, Florida State was forced to punt from its own 33-yard line and looked to kill the clock with one final stop on defense.
That's when things got wild in Raleigh.
N.C. State's Mike Rose came flying through the Florida State line and got his hand on the punt at the end of a desperation lunge. The block, which caused the ball to flutter out of bounds after just 10 yards, and three fourth-down conversions set up the game-winning score for the Wolfpack, who took a 17-16 lead with 16 seconds remaining. After stopping Florida State's Hail Mary pass, N.C. State completed the shocking upset.
Had it not been for the desperation punt block by Rose, Florida State most likely would have notched another win on the way to a perfect season. Instead, the Seminoles' national title dreams are likely dashed for the season.
– Del Pearson
He’s the likely No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He might've gone No. 1 this year if he wasn't a sophomore. His physical abilities are often hailed as “freakish”, an incredible blend of speed, strength and smarts. He’s a force of nature for what is now the unbeaten third-ranked team from the nation’s toughest conference.
Why wouldn’t someone like that get consideration as the “outstanding college football player in the United States”?
That’s what the Heisman ballot asks for, not the most outstanding offensive player, although over the decades, that's what it’s been. The last primarily defensive player to win the award – Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 – needed to be a dangerous return man to augment his play as a shutdown corner.
Yes the guy in the trophy is carrying the ball, but this year perhaps more than any other is time for the great defensive player to be appreciated. You want to know how difficult it is to play defense in college football? Just watch a game.
Offense is everywhere. Scoring is nonstop.[Also: Will Muschamp nabs first signature win at Florida]
Receivers are open, running backs are in living in space and quarterbacks are sitting around picking teams apart.
Forget “scheme quarterbacks.” This is the “scheme season.”
Nothing against all the offensive stars and the historic numbers they are ringing up. Great players, great performances. West Virginia’s Geno Smith has 24 TDs and zero interceptions. You can't find a fault there.
Yet it’s the defenses that eventually stop, or slow, those offenses that will prove to be the difference this year.
Besides, is there anyone out there that doesn’t believe Clowney is one of the best players in America? Other than whoever is writing those “Heisman Watch” lists that he rarely, if ever, appears on?
Heisman voting has made great strides in recent years. Widespread television coverage and the national scope of internet reporting has eliminated old regional barriers. It’s no longer about which team spends (wastes) the most money on promotional trinkets and Times Square billboards, especially before the season even begins. And candidates aren’t limited anymore to those playing at national-title contending glamour programs – Robert Griffin III from a three-loss Baylor team won it last year after all.
Now the Heisman voters, who are supposed to know and understand the game, can make the ultimate break from the past and consider the impact of more than just quarterbacks and running backs.
Clowney is the ideal trendsetter. He’s a 6-6, 256-pounder from Rock Hill, S.C. and the most ferocious defensive talent since Ndamukong Suh dominated at Nebraska in 2009. (Suh finished fourth in voting that year; Alabama running back Mark Ingram won it).
And who knows, Clowney may be better than that.
There isn’t an easy way to statistically measure his impact on a football game. He has 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss on the year, but those are just numbers. His presence is accounted for on every single play, from how the coordinator dreams it up originally to how players react to his presence. He regularly draws double teams that free up others on the line. South Carolina’s ability to stop the run and pressure the QB without relying on endless blitzes is a game-changer.
“It’s a blessing to be able to rush four guys and drop seven,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “We only sacked [Murray] twice, but he was 11-for-31... I think we really affected him.”
Consider during the second quarter Saturday, with the game ostensibly in the balance, when Georgia faced a critical fourth and goal.
Murray dropped back to pass only to see Clowney leap over a 319-pound offensive lineman who tried to block him low. With a sack seemingly inevitable, Murray was forced to get rid of the ball, in this case a dump down to Rantavious Wooten who was tackled by two Gamecocks short of the goal. That was pretty much the ball game.
Clowney got no statistical love on the play – Murray reacted so immediately to the pending doom it may not even qualify as a “quarterback hurry." Yet without Clowney's individual genius, Murray may have had time to find a touchdown.
He isn’t the only defensive difference maker out there of course – it’s half the game after all. Thus far only Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo is getting any hype, and it’s mainly as the defensive alternative vote, not a real threat.
If there’s ever a time for the defense to get its due, it’s now, when the difficulty of getting stops is so apparent and the value of having someone who can deliver them so valuable.
Spinning scoreboards are spectacular, but no more than big Jadeveon hurdling blockers and destroying once well-oiled offensive machines – the modern day version of that text book Heisman stiff-arm.
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