CLEMSON — Jadeveon Clowney is difficult to miss.
The 6-foot-6, 256-pound South Carolina defensive end has the speed of a running back, the wingspan of an NBA forward and can probably leap over a Honda Civic. Clemson is well aware of his array of skills and the sophomore will be the focus of the Tigers’ attention when the two rivals meet at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Clowney is perhaps the Gamecocks’ key to disrupting the Clemson offense, which ranks sixth in the nation with 535 yards per game.
Despite not playing last Saturday against Wofford due to a foot injury, No. 12 Clemson (10-1) expects Clowney to be on the field at Memorial Stadium for No. 13 South Carolina (9-2). The Rock Hill native is 11th in the nation in tackles for loss (17) and 17th in sacks (8.5). Clowney has accumulated these numbers despite facing a constant double-team blocks.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said the Gamecocks move Clowney around, but he will most often start across from left tackle Brandon Thomas.
“We all know about Clowney and the caliber of player he is, maybe one of the best in the country,” Morris said. “Their defensive front this year is as good as a defensive front as we’ve seen.”
Clowney is so talented, many expect he’ll be a top 5 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, when he is eligible to turn pro. He opens up opportunity for a talented USC front that sacked Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd five times last season and pressured him into a line of 11-of-29 passing for 83 yards.
Morris did not give details on how he planned to block Clowney.
“Everyone has tried to (double-team) him and he’s done a good job fighting off two defenders,” Morris said.
The good news for Clemson is its offensive line enters the week playing more effectively than last season when the Tigers allowed 11 combined sacks.
Against N.C. State on Saturday, which entered leading the ACC in sacks, Clemson did not allow a single sack.
“Our pass protection has been good, it’s getting better each week,” Morris said. “It’s been effective in giving Tajh a chance.”
Boyd took what was perhaps an unnecessary hit when Morris called a QB run against N.C. State with just a few minutes to play and Clemson holding a two-touchdown lead. Boyd took a shot to his upper body and left the field for a play. He’s OK for the South Carolina game.
Some wondered why Boyd was in the game, let alone running the football. Morris noted he was trying to get Boyd his first 100-yard rushing game of his career - Boyd rushed for 103 yards - and said he felt the Tigers needed one more first down.
“Football is a violent game,” Morris said. “Never once did I think about not running him until that last first down. He gave us our best opportunity. He was running effectively all night long. Football is violent. You are going to get hurt. You just try to be smart with it as much as you can.”