COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney will play his last home game today in what has been sluggish season for the heralded defensive end.
Clowney was a Heisman Trophy favorite when the year began and one of the most popular players in college football after his helmet-popping hit on Michigan’s Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl last New Year’s Day.
But the 6-foot-6, 274-pound junior has just two sacks and few memorable game-changing plays this season.
He can add to those numbers today when No. 10 South Carolina (9-2) plays host to No. 6 Clemson (10-1) at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier believes the reigning Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year has had a tremendous impact on South Carolina’s improving defense.
Clowney has said he will enter the NFL Draft after the season.
As has been Spurrier’s practice this season, Clowney has not been made available for interviews prior to games.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward acknowledged that Clowney’s been his own worst enemy at times, missing sack opportunities and the chances to make big plays that he did his first two seasons. But Clowney’s also dealing with two- and three-man blocking schemes to slow him down or offenses playing away from his side of the ball.
“Again, everybody this year has done something different and I’m sure they will, too,” Ward said.
Clowney had a mid-season controversy when he pulled himself out of South Carolina’s game with Kentucky, sparking the anger of coach Steve Spurrier.
That touched off several days of wondering if Clowney were committed to the Gamecocks, or concerned about protecting what could be a guaranteed $22 million as the NFL’s top draft pick.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said earlier this month he still considered Clowney the draft’s top prospect.
Clowney, who had a strained muscle by his ribs Kentucky week, has played better down the stretch.
“Hopefully, Jadeveon’s ready to have his best game this Saturday night,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier said Clowney’s impact has been significant.
The Gamecocks went 11-2 each of Clowney’s first two seasons, a feat never accomplished in school history.
A win over Clemson this weekend would be South Carolina’s fifth in a row, also unprecedented in a series that began in 1896.
“All you got to do is look at the record book to see the impact he’s made on South Carolina,” Spurrier said.
Here are five things to watch for when No. 6 Clemson plays No. 10 South Carolina:
GAMECOCK STREAKS: South Carolina last won four straight in the series from 1951-54 and has never won five straight over the rival Tigers. The Gamecocks also have a longest-in-the-nation, 17-game home win streak, surpassing the mark set by the teams of Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers from 1978-80.
NOT JUST CLOWNEY: There are several NFL draft eligible players on both sidelines pondering NFL decisions. The most likely candidate to leave is Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, who leads the ACC in receiving yards with 1,144 yards and 10 touchdown catches. Others who could enter the draft are South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and cornerback Victor Hampton, both juniors expected to join Clowney in Senior Day festivities. For the Tigers, defensive end Vic Beasley and receiver Martavis Bryant probably will also at the pros and cons of entering the NFL draft after this year.
GOODBYE QBs: This is definitely the final Palmetto State showing for senior quarterbacks Tajh Boyd of Clemson and Connor Shaw of South Carolina. The two have defined their programs’ rise the past few seasons. Boyd has set ACC records for passing yards and touchdowns accounted for. Shaw is the Gamecocks all-time leader with a 25-5 mark as a starter. Plus, he’s never lost at Williams-Brice Stadium.
EYE ON MISSOURI: South Carolina remains alive in the SEC championship chase, needing a win by No. 19 Texas A&M over fifth-ranked Missouri to claim the Eastern Division. Two weeks ago, officials broadcast the end of Auburn’s victory over Georgia, which the Gamecocks also needed to make the title game, on the team’s 123-foot wide video board after their contest with Florida started. Could South Carolina do the same here since Missouri’s game starts 45 minutes after the Clemson kickoff?
SWINNEY IN THE SEC: Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has done well against SEC competition since becoming a head coach in 2008, just not the Gamecocks. He’s won six times against SEC teams, twice over Auburn and once each against South Carolina, Kentucky, LSU and Georgia. He’s only 1-4, though, in the state rivalry.