We’ve got about 22 days remaining until North Carolina kicks off the 2013 football season in Columbia and the speed and intensity are revving up in practice. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill as second year head coach Larry Fedora looks to build on a very promising 8-4 season and repeat as Coastal Division Champions.
The focus for the football team and the media has been solely on the made for TV matchup down in Columbia vs the University of South Carolina and more specifically how the Tar Heels plan on handling Jadeveon Clowney. If you were to listen to the media, you’d think the game was a foregone conclusion because there was just no way quarterback Bryn Renner, or any of the Tar Heel running backs, were going to get the ball out of the backfield. Don’t get me wrong, Clowney is an amazing athlete and will more than likely be a top pick in next year’s draft, but he certainly isn’t invincible.
If you look at Jadeveon’s stats collectively from last season, they‘re pretty impressive. He registered 59 total tackles in 12 games with 13 of those being sacks. Once you figure in that Clowney primarily played against SEC opponents, it makes it that much more respectable. However, if you look a little closer, he wasn’t exactly lighting it up every game like he did vs Clemson where he had 7 tackles and 4.5 sacks in that game alone. On average, you’re looking at Jadeveon picking up 4.5 tackles and 1 sack per game this season if his stats roll over. That’s quite manageable for Fedora and the Tar Heels.
Where Clowney really becomes dangerous is when he creates space and plays for his teammates. Offensive lineman and offensive coordinators alike, can get so caught up on understanding where he is, that while all the attention goes to slowing him down, his teammates are flying in for sacks or intercepting passes that were rushed.
It’s important that Carolina doesn’t get fixated on Clowney so much that they lose sight of the defense in general. People tend to forget that South Carolina is a top 10 team for reasons beyond one player. My solution to this would be to run the ball right at him. Force Clowney to make plays while he fights through pressure rather than having him come at you in space or chase you down on the opposite sideline. Running your offense towards him will give him less time to react and will ultimately fatigue him faster if you do it consistently.
This solution certainly isn’t a fool proof plan to negate Clowney’s impact, but it could work in slowing him down. At the end of the day though, Clowney is what he is and that’s a great football player. He’s going to make plays one way or another, but as long as you manage his production and take what he gives you, the game should still be in reach for the Tar Heels to pull out an upset on opening night.