Jadeveon Clowney’s quest for the Heisman Trophy began quietly Thursday night.
Although the South Carolina defense held UNC’s fast-paced offense to 10 points, the junior defensive end did not have the kind of eye-opening game on national television that he’s going to need to make a run at the coveted award.
He made three tackles and compiled no sacks, although it was going to be hard to get to UNC quarterback Bryn Renner because of his quick release and the speed with which the Tar Heels lined up.
On a hot evening, Clowney appeared winded at times in the first half and went to the sideline for breaks. USC coach Steve Spurrier made it clear without stating it that Clowney was fatigued.
“I don’t have to say it. You write what you see,” he said.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said Clowney was not the only player who got gassed chasing the UNC offense all over the field for 79 plays.
“Everybody always expects lofty goals from JD, and he expects them from himself,” Ward said. “We’ll go back and evaluate him. I told him that he might have to watch what he eats if his energy is down. There are things he can do to make sure when we play teams like this that he can play more than 3-4-5 plays at a time.”
The 6-foot-6, 274-pound Clowney, who said he had a stomach virus the previous night that caused him not to eat much Thursday, wasn’t overly concerned because he watched players on both sides of the ball struggle with the pace and the heat. He said his conditioning is fine.
“We still came out there and did our job,” Clowney said. “Ten points in a game, and we got the win? That’s all that matters.”
In the fourth quarter, after the long weather delay ended, Clowney took an illegal block on his knee that drew a penalty on North Carolina tackle Kiaro Holts. Clowney left the game briefly but returned during the next series, when he barely missed a sack on the way to USC making a goal-line stand.
“I told him at the break, ‘You ought to be well-rested now. Maybe you won’t get shut out (from getting a sack).’” Spurrier said.
But Clowney couldn’t get to Renner for his first sack of the season. He had a school-record 13 last season, and expectations are high that he can pile up enough to become the second defensive player to win a Heisman. He noted that he lives for sacks.
“Yes, I was mad about that,” he said. “I was heated.”
And he brushed off criticism coming from the ESPN and the Twitter universe that he didn’t have a good game.
“As long as we’re winning, I could care less,” he said.