South Carolina seethed.
A bad call had just given Michigan a first down – despite the referee looking at the ball clearly short of the first-down marker – during the 2013 Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks trailed by a point with 8:21 to play and had enough trouble trying to win without the men in stripes giving the opponent free chances.
The best player on the field told his teammates not to worry. A split second later, he was a legend – and the Gamecocks were certainly glad he was one of them.
Jadeveon Clowney’s blurry rush to the ball-carrier and brutal tackle of Wolverines running back Vincent Smith separated Smith’s helmet from his head and the ball from his mitts. It happened so fast nobody seemed quite sure what happened – until Clowney, still laying on Smith, reached out a paw as big as a Christmas ham, recovered the ball and rose to start running.
He was tackled but the message was clear – Michigan wasn’t going to win. “The Hit” turned the game around, despite the Wolverines taking the lead later on. The Gamecocks knew they’d get one more play to win, and did so when Dylan Thompson found Bruce Ellington for a last-minute touchdown.
The Hit was the finest play of Clowney’s career and was destined to become a part of posters and jokes from then on. The future No. 1 NFL Draft pick had a new motto – “Clowney Comin’” – and the random Michigan helmets began popping up around Columbia, each claiming to be the one Clowney dislodged from Smith.
Three seconds encapsulated exactly what the Gamecocks signed when Clowney committed. Fast, unblockable – and mean.