South Carolina star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a potential top-10 draft pick if he chooses to turn pro early, squared off Saturday with Tennessee's Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, one of the nation's elite left tackle prospects.
How did Clowney fare against the Volunteers' tackle? A close examination of their encounters:
Downs Clowney lined up on Richardson's side: 66 (39 run downs, 27 pass downs)
Downs Clowney "won": 22
Downs Richardson "won": 12
Downs on which the Clowney-Richardson matchup was a non-factor: 28.
Against the run: In perhaps the area where Richardson, with roughly a 50-pound edge, figured to play his best, he was beaten consistently. Clowney's quickness and explosive first step had Richardson missing several blocks, including a complete whiff on a cut block on Tennessee's opening drive. It should be noted that on a couple of Clowney's most impressive plays, Richardson was assigned to a downblock on a tackle, and Clowney discarded a guard or tight end with ease to help make a play. Tennessee's offense ran away from Clowney for most of the day, however, as evidenced by the head-to-head matchup being inconsequential for nearly half of UT's play calls. Richardson's best blocks on Clowney were both key blocks on second-quarter runs of 11 and 14 to Clowney's side, and again on a first-down run at the end of the game to set up UT's game-winning field goal. Nevertheless, the South Carolina star was disruptive on more downs than he wasn't. Edge: Clowney.
Against the pass: While Clowney didn't pick up a sack, he was consistently in QB Justin Worley's face. On a couple of plays, however, he got pressure with a stunt inside, leaving Richardson to block someone else. On a couple other plays, Richardson had some help from a tight end to hold off Clowney. But Richardson struggled in this area, as well, losing Clowney around the edge once, and on inside moves more than once. Edge: Clowney.
Overall edge: Clowney, and by a longshot. He played all but two plays in the first half, watching a couple of snaps from the sideline near the end of the first quarter, and only once did he loaf on a play. Richardson was flagged for a false start on a 3rd-and-11 play in which he was trying to get a jump on Clowney's first step, and was later flagged for illegal formation because he was setting up too deep off the line of scrimmage, again in anticipation of Clowney's quickness. Clowney set the tone for the game early with a six-yard tackle for loss on Tennessee's second play from scrimmage, and didn't let up on the Volunteers' star tackle the rest of the day. In the fourth quarter, Clowney spent four downs on the opposite side against right tackle Ja'Wuan James, and James actually got the better of him on a couple of run blocks. Clowney finished with five tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss. He also helped set up several other TFLs by the USC defense, and was credited with two quarterback hurries. It was a dominant day, and given the head-to-head competition, by far Clowney's most impressive performance of the season.