In 1988, when Alabama’s Derrick Thomas set the unofficial NCAA record for sacks in a season with 27, South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward was his teammate.
“Yeah, I remember it very well,” Ward said. “Derrick was very similar to Jadeveon (Clowney). Derrick would run skill (player) times in workouts. He was a tremendous player. He had a great first step also, but I think Clowney’s step might be a step faster.”
Clowney, the Gamecocks junior defensive end, is now college football’s most feared pass rusher, but there’s little to no chance he will match or eclipse Thomas’ record mark, Ward said.
“You play so many spread teams now, it’s tough to do,” Ward said.
Case in point: Thursday night’s game against North Carolina. Head coach Larry Fedora’s no-huddle, spread offense is designed to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly.
Last season, the Tar Heels finished in the nation’s top 10 for fewest sacks allowed with 11 during their 12-game season. In the three seasons prior to that, Fedora’s Southern Miss teams never finished lower than No. 24 in the country in fewest sacks allowed and never allowed more than 17 sacks in a season.
Discounting a disastrous 2008 season (Fedora’s first at Southern Miss), the offenses Fedora has presided over have given up only 15 sacks per year in the last six years. In short, don’t expect Clowney’s Heisman chase to get off a fast start against the Tar Heels.
“If Jadeveon thinks he’s going to go sack the quarterback 4.5 times like he did at Clemson, he’s going to be sadly mistaken,” Ward said. “That’s not their tempo offense. I don’t think you will see (another) player get 27 sacks.”
Larry Fedora’s offenses have rarely given up many sacks. Here are the stats of the offenses he has coached the last seven seasons and where they ranked in the nation in fewest sacks allowed:
North Carolina, No. 9, 11 sacks in 12 games
Southern Miss, No. 22, 17 sacks in 14 games
Southern Miss, No. 24, 17 sacks in 13 games
Southern Miss, No. 21, 16 sacks in 13 games
Southern Miss, No. 90, 30 sacks in 13 games
Oklahoma State, No. 3, 11 sacks in 13 games
Oklahoma State, No. 19, 18 sacks in 13 games