South Carolina’s defensive unit was dealt a major blow during pregame warmups when All-America defensive end Jadeveon Clowney informed the coaching staff he was going to be unable to play Saturday night against Kentucky because his bruised ribs were limiting what he could do.
It came as a surprise to everyone.
“I don’t want to get into all of that,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “I will just say he told me he couldn’t play. That his ribs hurt, couldn’t run. Said ‘I can’t play.’ I said, ‘That’s fine, you don’t have to play.’ We’ll move on. He may not be able to play next week, I don’t know. We’re not going to worry about it, I can assure you that if he wants to play, we’ll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to.
“If he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to play, simple as that. We were thinking he was going to suit up and play. He did not practice Thursday. Couldn’t run. Said he couldn’t play. Any time a player says he’s hurt, can’t play, who are we to question? He doesn’t play.”
The bruised ribs are the latest in a litany of injuries Clowney has faced since the beginning of the season. The junior standout informed everyone after the season opener against North Carolina that he was battling a stomach ailment that caused dehydration. After the Georgia game a week later, Clowney claimed bone spurs in his foot were limiting his mobility. The bone spurs again were an issue after the Vanderbilt game, but Clowney said he thought he would be able to play through the pain the rest of the season.
After last week’s Central Florida game, Clowney again said he had a stomach bug. He missed practice on Thursday with bruised ribs, but both Spurrier and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward thought Clowney would be available against the Wildcats.
“Coach Spurrier talked to (Clowney), and he told him he had trouble running because of his ribs, so we found out right before the game he couldn’t play,” Ward said. “I was totally surprised. We went through walk-through earlier today, and he said he was hurting, but I thought he was going to play. I don’t think it had any effect. I think all the guys, when they found out he wasn’t going to play, somebody else has to step it up. We’d love to have JD out there, but we got to put 11 guys on the field, regardless of whether he plays or not.”
Ward also asked if he thought Clowney would be available for the road trip to Arkansas next week.
“We’ll see,” he said.
Clowney has 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble this season but has not lived up to the hype that he received in the offseason. He was mentioned by many national pundits as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate, but his production has not been what was expected. He was 11th on the team in tackles before the game and tied for second on the team in sacks.
Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said the defense missed Clowney, but they had other players step up. Quarles had a sack and two tackles for loss among his six tackles.
“You all know Jadeveon is a great player, a game changer,” Quarles said. “I feel like that is what you come to college for, to always have someone behind you ready to play. So we missed him out there, but we still went out there and took care of business. That is what you get recruited to come to college for. One man goes down, and another man steps up at any position.”
As for Clowney, his return will be left to speculation. After the game, he was asked if he would return next week.
“I don’t know,” Clowney responded.