Assessing Jadeveon Clowney's true impact; more Walkthrough

Thursday September 5th, 2013

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier offered a highly scientific explanation this week as to why defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had an off game against North Carolina last Thursday. "Obviously, he was pooped," Spurrier said during a teleconference with reporters. "But I think there was other reasons that he was pooped than that he's not in good shape."

After the 27-10 win over the Tar Heels, Clowney said that he had been fighting a stomach virus, but illness wasn't the only issue with his sub-par performance. On several plays that went away from his side, he stood straight up and opted not to give chase. But was Clowney neutralized? Hardly. A review of the video shows that he negatively affected North Carolina's offense in several ways -- even though the Tar Heels succeeded in wearing him out. And that's the scary part for Georgia this Saturday.

When the Bulldogs take on the Gamecocks at Sanford Stadium, it will be interesting to see whether Georgia coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo incorporate lessons from the North Carolina game into their scheme to slow Clowney. We know that what the Bulldogs ran against South Carolina last year didn't work. The Gamecocks held Georgia to 224 yards on 67 plays in a 35-7 rout. Two of Clowney's four tackles were for losses (including a sack), and fellow defensive end Chaz Sutton's only tackle was a sack.

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Having re-watched all of Clowney's snaps against the Tar Heels, it's easy to see how he can frustrate an opposing offensive coordinator. Direct attacks didn't work. North Carolina only double-teamed Clowney nine times. With greater resources devoted to neutralizing him on those plays, Clowney should have been ineffective. That wasn't the case. Clowney either completely blew up or adversely affected (e.g. forced an early throw that fell incomplete) six of those nine plays. Devoting a back or a tight end to help block Clowney either takes away a receiver or gives pass rushers a numbers advantage someplace else, making the tactic terribly inefficient. If Clowney is going to beat two players anyway, as he regularly did against the Tar Heels, why leave the other players at a disadvantage? That's why North Carolina left Clowney unblocked on the back side of 11 plays, and only blocked him with one player on 11 other runs that went away from him. It may also help explain why South Carolina began using Clowney as a three-technique defensive tackle on occasion. It's much more difficult to run away from someone who is positioned in the middle of the line.

The Tar Heels had success against Clowney when they forced him to chase down screens or runs to the opposite side of the field. With apologies to Joshua, the computer in War Games, the only winning move against the 6-foot-6, 274-pound junior may be to avoid engaging him as often as possible. What North Carolina did best was to wear out Clowney with tempo and scheme, leaving him so exhausted that one blocker could (sort of) handle him. North Carolina left tackle James Hurst played well against Clowney for most of the night -- though Hurst was lucky he didn't get called for a hold in the second quarter for essentially tackling Clowney, who had beaten him to the inside, on the Tar Heels' only touchdown. That came at the end of a 16-play drive, and after North Carolina put together a 17-play march that resulted in a field goal at the start of the second half, Clowney was spent. Making him chase screens and runs to the opposite side, and then lining up quickly to snap the ball got him panting and made him easier to handle on successive plays.

Changing direction and chasing down a play is the most taxing thing a defensive lineman must do. It's why screens are especially effective. Imagine that you are a defensive lineman, and that you weigh between 260 and 320 pounds. Now imagine that you propel all that weight forward, absorb a blow from a 315-pound offensive lineman and then keep sprinting for 5-10 yards. Now imagine that the quarterback throws the ball and that you must stop your momentum, turn around and sprint another 10, 15 or 20 yards to chase the receiver. Now imagine that the offense then lines up and snaps the ball 12 seconds after the last play ended. You fire out of your stance, and you absorb another blow from a 315-pounder. He doesn't seem particularly interested, and you soon see why. The play is a handoff to the tailback in the opposite direction. You could stop right there, but what if he cuts back? You could make the tackle. So you stop your forward momentum, change directions and start running. To help stop his five-yard gain, you've sprinted almost 20 yards. Now imagine that the offense runs another play 12 seconds after that one ended. This time, it's a pass. So you sprint upfield while fighting that same 315-pound lineman. The pass is complete for a five-yard gain -- you also had to chase the receiver -- and suddenly the offense is ready to go again. You? You're ready for a nap. That's what happened to Clowney and the rest of the Gamecocks' defensive line last week.

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Will the Bulldogs go up-tempo? Georgia has used the approach some in recent years, but it isn't an overarching offensive philosophy like it is in coach Larry Fedora's Tar Heels program. Also, North Carolina's style worked only to a point. Ignoring Clowney may force him to run, but it also telegraphs the direction and/or depth of the play, which makes the jobs of South Carolina's other 10 defenders much easier.

Here's another stat from the Gamecocks' opener that should give Bulldogs coaches pause: For the plays in which Clowney was on the field, South Carolina only blitzed four times. The lack of blitzing may have been an attempt to avoid putting too much on tape for Georgia, but it also may have been done out of necessity because of the way the Tar Heels spread the field. No matter the reason, the Gamecocks shut down a pretty good offense using mostly their base defense. That means there are probably a host of blitzes and stunts they didn't run that likely will be employed on Saturday to confuse the Bulldogs' blockers.

After watching last week's Georgia-Clemson game (and re-watching last year's Georgia-South Carolina game), it seems obvious to me that the Bulldogs cannot leave left tackle Kenarious Gates alone against Clowney as often as they did in 2012. Clowney's swim move flummoxed Gates last year, and the 6-5, 327-pound senior also struggled last Saturday against lightning-quick Tigers end Vic Beasley. Gates will need help.

But if Richt and Bobo take a cue from North Carolina, Gates might not need as much assistance. Throw some screens, or run Todd Gurley, away from Clowney and he might wind up sucking wind. That could give Gates the all the aid he needs, at least for a play or two.

Of course, another takeaway from the Tar Heels game is that Clowney played his best on North Carolina's final possession. Even after two quarters spent gasping for air, he found something extra to help deny the Tar Heels a touchdown. On his penultimate play of the night, Clowney beat right tackle John Heck and right guard Landon Turner to dump quarterback Bryn Renner as he threw. On Clowney's final play, he took his hands off his knees, crouched in his stance and beat Heck and tailback Romar Morris to force another Renner incompletion.

Even when he's pooped, Clowney still has pop. That may not win him the Heisman, but it might keep Bobo and Richt up late this week.

Pregame adjustments

Florida at Miami: The Hurricanes may have multifaceted sophomore safety Deon Bush back on Saturday. Bush, who had surgery in June to repair a sports hernia, was cleared to play in the season opener against FAU but stayed under wraps. "It's still going to be to the wire, but more promising [Wednesday]," Miami coach Al Golden said of the decision to play Bush.

Oklahoma State at Texas-San Antonio: The Cowboys' recruiting tour of the Lone Star State continues. Last week, they played in Houston's Reliant Stadium. This week, they play in San Antonio's Alamodome. Oklahoma State will enter the game set at quarterback. Redshirt sophomore J.W. Walsh, who entered last week's win over Mississippi State and energized the offense with his zone-read running, will get the start. There are no plans to rotate in Clint Chelf, who started against Mississippi State and played the first two series. [Walsh] just brought a spark to our team," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. "I have to make that decision because that's what they pay us to do. I just felt like there was a lift to the team once he came in the game."

Oregon at Virginia: The Ducks' offense didn't look much different in its first game without former coach Chip Kelly. The Cavaliers did look different in their first game with coaches Tom O'Brien and John Tenuta on staff, rallying in the final minutes to beat BYU. That should give Virginia players confidence. Hopefully, they won't lose it after Or through Charlottesville.

Syracuse at Northwestern: Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter, who left Northwestern's win over Cal with an apparent concussion, told Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune that he is ready and intends to play on Saturday. If Colter is unable to play, however, Trevor Siemian would start. Siemian completed 18-of-29 passes for 276 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions against the Bears.

Sam Houston State at Texas A&M: Teams should always be careful when scheduling good FCS opponents. The BearKats, who were the FCS runners-up last season, led Baylor by 10 points at halftime last year and whipped the Aggies' second stringers after Johnny Manziel and the starters put their meeting out of reach last November. Most people in my business will try to interpret Manziel's body language this Saturday, but pay more attention to Texas A&M's defense. It looked soft against Rice with several players suspended. If it still looks soft, the Aggies will know they'll need to score a ton of points next week against Alabama.

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Texas at BYU: The Cougars laid an egg at Virginia. Now they'll try to shut down the Longhorns' new-look offense. Texas needed a half to get rolling against New Mexico State, but the offense hummed once it got in sync. Things won't come so easy against BYU, but if offensive coordinator Major Applewhite keeps finding ways to get the ball in the hands of running back Daje Johnson, Texas should be much more dynamic than last season.

Notre Dame at Michigan: Derrick Green, the Wolverines' 240-pound freshman tailback, moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Fitz Toussaint by gaining 58 yards on 11 carries against Central Michigan. Green may see a similar -- or an even larger -- workload against The Fighting Irish, which struggled against mega-back Eddie Lacy in last January's BCS title game. Just think, if Green collides with Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III, the resulting combination will equal 582 pounds of human.

Washington State at USC: The Cougars look like they've improved their blocking last week in a loss at Auburn, but it's difficult to tell by how much since the Tigers are only one game removed from going 0-8 in the SEC. If both teams were truly improved -- which is what it seemed like watching the game -- then the Trojans could be in for a test when Mike Leach brings his team to the Coliseum.

San Jose State at Stanford: We get our first look at the #PartyInTheBackfield, and the Cardinal picked a great guest of honor. San Jose State quarterback David Fales threw for 4,193 yards last year and led the nation in completion percentage.

Western Michigan remixed

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck made a video announcing the "new traditions" -- yes, it's an oxymoron -- Broncos fans will need to know about before they watch their team face Nicholls State at Waldo Stadium on Saturday.

These enhancements include:

• An in-stadium DJ. Apparently, DJ Ill Mixx will be the fourth such person in the nation. Alas, Western Michigan could not secure the services of Funkmaster Flex. That means no Flex Bombs after sacks and first downs.

• Twenty minutes before kickoff, a foghorn will blow. Finish your drink and get your butt in the stadium.

• The band will play the fight song after each touchdown. Following the extra point, Ill Mixx will play The Fratellis' "Chelsea Dagger," because there's nothing a bunch of Detroit Red Wings fans will love more than hearing the Chicago Blackhawks' favorite song.

• Every time the defense faces a third-down play, Ill Mixx will play Metallica's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" and fans will be asked to make an arm motion that either tells the runner to round third and go home, or impugns the honor of an Australian's mother. Admit it, you're just impressed Fleck went with something off Ride The Lightning.

• Between the third and fourth quarters, the band will begin playing Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Ten seconds in, Ill Mixx will call for a remix. Then every fan who isn't still trying to figure out the third-down motion will begin making a rowing motion.

Fleck's desire to turn MACtion into a party is certainly admirable. We can only hope his attempt at creating new traditions will work out better than Ron Prince's ...

Vintage video of the week

Before Florida and Miami renew their rivalry this Saturday, take a look back at the moment the series boiled over into pure hatred. In 1971, Gators quarterback John Reaves was 343 passing yards shy of Jim Plunkett's NCAA passing record heading into the game against the Hurricanes. (At the time, the record was 7,544 yards. That distance is now known as 1.4 good seasons in an Air Raid offense.) Florida led 45-8 in the fourth quarter, but Reaves was still 10 yards shy of Plunkett's mark. So, when Miami ran a play from the Florida eight-yard line, the Gators flopped to the ground and allowed Hurricanes quarterback John Hornibrook to score. Reaves broke the record on the next play. This video shows the incident, as well as Florida coach Doug Dickey's explanation for it. Following that, a deadly serious member of a 1970s news team editorializes.

As we know, the Gators did not deemphasize football -- except maybe during the 0-10-1 season (1979) that got Dickey fired and Charley Pell hired. It is unclear whether Champ Kind inspiration George Mills deemphasized his lapels or his sideburns. Dickey went on to become the longtime athletic director at Tennessee. Reaves went on to become the father of Layla Kiffin.

On the menu

If you're headed to Athens to watch South Carolina play Georgia, bring cash (or a check) and head to Cali-N-Tito's. This little shack sits on the edge of Georgia's campus and has ample space for outdoor dining/sundress modeling. Order the El Gran Combo (skirt steak with rice, beans and sweet plantains) and a banana shake. It's BYOB, but the gas station next door will sell you all the hops-and-barley provisions you need.

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