When Jadeveon Clowney likely leaves South Carolina after his junior season, he will be remembered for three incredible years worth of play. But there’s going to be one play that always stands out.
His fourth-quarter demolition hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith — in which the 6-foot-6 sophomore defensive end leveled the runner and separated him from the football and his helmet — will live on in Gamecock lore forever. To top the play off, Clowney recovered the fumble himself by palming the ball as it sat next to him.
The outcome of the Outback Bowl turned on the play. One play earlier, the Wolverines picked up a controversial first down when the officials ruled a fake punt had gained enough yardage to move the chains, though it appeared the play came up short. And one play later, Connor Shaw hit Ace Sanders for a 31-yard touchdown to give USC a 27-22 lead.
Clowney, who was a unanimous first-team All-American and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, said the defense was determined to make a big play to get the ball back after the decision to award the first down.
“We were pumped up after the fourth down,” he said. “We were, like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to step up. We’re not going to leave it in the refs’ hands.’ We were just going to try to take over and play.”
In a remarkable career filled with big plays, the sound of this hit stood out to his teammates.
“It was like a car crash,” USC receiver Ace Sanders said.
Clowney wouldn’t call it the best hit of his life — “I got a lot of them in high school” — but he did enjoy a little payback on Smith, whose hit on Clowney earlier in the game knocked him out for a few plays.
“He did,” Clowney said with a smile. “He laughed about it, and I said, ‘I’m going to get you later on.’”
Clowney, who completed his remarkable season with 54 tackles, 23.5 for loss, and 13 sacks and stated his candidacy for the 2013 Heisman Trophy, no longer surprises his teammates and coaches with his play.
“He’s definitely going to show you how good he is. Big-time players make big-time plays,” USC defensive tackle J.T. Surratt said. “He’s one of those types of players you have to watch. We know what’s he capable of doing, and we expect stuff like that.”
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward pointed to Clowney’s late sack and forced fumble that stopped a late drive in the Tennessee victory as well as the 4.5 sacks in the big win against a high-powered Clemson offense.
“The young man has been blessed with a special talent, and he has the knack for making the big play when you need it. He did it in the Tennessee, he did it in the Clemson game, and he just did it in this game,” Ward said. “When he doesn’t want to be blocked, he can’t be blocked. That’s all I can tell you.”
Clowney put on some extra pounds over the holiday break, and with the warm day at Raymond James Stadium causing him to tire, the coaches pulled him out of the game a couple of times in the first half. Clowney wasn’t too happy about that so he dedicated himself to having a strong second half. And when the sun went down later in the day, USC coach Steve Spurrier noticed him pick up his play.
The big hit on Smith in the fourth quarter served as proof of that. Ward called the play a flash.
“His speed and quickness out of his stance is unbelievable,” Ward said. “I would be scared if I played against him. I don’t know if he’s going inside or outside. He can do it all.”
Clowney's big hit