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Cause For Concern? Clowney's Unseen Impact vs. UNC

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Jadeveon Clowney's influence mostly went unseen, but still important. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.
Jadeveon Clowney's influence mostly went unseen, but still important. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.

It’s pretty easy to nitpick Jadeveon Clowney’s performance against North Carolina. The darkhorse Heisman candidate and potential No. 1 overall pick didn’t do much in the season opener.

At least he didn’t do much in terms of on-field action.

While Clowney only impacted a handful of plays and certainly didn’t knock anyone’s helmet off, it was clear that his presence affected the Tar Heels.

North Carolina’s game plan relied heavily on quick slants and tunnel screen after tunnel screen after tunnel screen. Bryn Renner repeatedly moved the pocket from left to right on rolls and play action so that Clowney couldn’t simply tee off on one particular spot.

And of course there were the double teams and screens over the top of Clowney to mute the nation’s most fearsome defensive player’s ability to maul a ball-carrier.

Credit to North Carolina, the game plan of snap throws and screens did keep Clowney from wreaking havoc. However, that strategy also resulted in short-yardage plays that made a vaunted, high-tempo offense look like a sprinter running in quick sand. There was a lot of action at a frantic pace, but the Tar Heels never really got anywhere.

North Carolina gained 293 yards on 79 offensive plays. South Carolina had 100 more yards of offense on 20 fewer snaps. That sums up a 27-10 win for the Gamecocks.

So Clowney clearly had an indirect impact even if he didn’t rack up stats or add to his highlight reel. The lack of conditioning that has everyone in a tizzy was somewhat concerning (and probably overblown by the game announcers), but not a clear death blow to South Carolina’s season.

For one thing, the rest of the defensive line looked great (and so did the secondary). Also, it’s one game and a guy receiving tons of hype probably was frustrated by the fact that an opposing team’s offense was almost entirely built around taking him out of the picture.

By the end of the season this could well be Clowney’s worst game performance. Yet it ended with a comfortable South Carolina victory and a defensive performance that made a typically strong offense look inept. That won’t earn Clowney a Heisman, but it could earn his team plenty of wins.

Ultimately, the only real concern was a North Carolina lineman taking a clear cheap shot at Clowney’s knees. As a Duke fan, dirty play from the Tar Heels lives up to my low opinion of North Carolina. South Carolina fans looking for reasons to stress shouldn’t focus so much on Clowney’s conditioning, but rather worry about his susceptibility to injury-inflicting hits; dirty or innocent.

In just one game, Clowney has proven that as long as he’s on the field he at least indirectly impacts the game. That’s a huge asset for a Gamecock team about to go up against an offensive inferno down in Athens.