Now that the bowl season has run its course, there will be one lasting image from this bowl season. It wasn’t a long touchdown run or an acrobatic catch or a dazzling kick return.
No, it was a tackle. Well, that’s understating the play. It was more than just a tackle. It was a mugging but with more ferocity.
It happened with 8:22 left in the fourth quarter of the Outback Bowl and it will live forever on YouTube.com.
Those who saw it will know exactly the play that tops the list of memorable plays, and not just from this bowl season but any bowl season.
Michigan led 22-21 and time was winding down on the Gamecocks’ chances. At the Michigan 41-yard line Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner handed the ball to Vincent Smith. But suddenly there was Jadeveon Clowney.South Carolina’s 6-foot-6, 256-pound sophomore defensive end came clean through the Wolverines’ offensive line and blew up the play. And he almost blew up Smith. The Michigan back’s head snapped back and his helmet flew off and flew backwards.
Brian Tynes of the Raycom New Network described it this way: OK, we are having a hard time determining the best part of “the play.” First, there is the penetration into the backfield. How anyone would think it’s OK to not block Clowney is beyond our comprehension.
Second, there is the launching of Smith’s helmet into the stratosphere. Aircraft on final approach into the Tampa airport had to be rerouted until the helmet cleared the area (NORAD spotted it over Phoenix about 10 minutes later).
Smith lost more than just his helmet. He also lost the football. Clowney, in addition to causing the fumble, also reached out with his left hand and recovered the loose football at theMichigan31-yard line. South Carolina quickly converted the turnover into a 31-yard touchdown pass from Connor Shaw to Ace Sanders for a 27-22 lead and an eventual 33-28 win.
“I was just looking for the ball,” said Clowney. “I just came off the ball full speed. I said if they are going to keep on with that zone blocking I’m going to go outside and kill him one time. It was just a matter of time. I’m going to make a big play.”
And make a play he did. It is a play that will live forever in highlight films. It left everybody in the stadium speechless … especially Smith, the unwilling victim of Clowney’s memorable mugging.
“He didn’t say anything. He just froze up. He was laying there and I was laughing. That’s what I do. It’s a game. It’s competition. I was laying on him and pushing his face. I was trying to get to the ball and run with it,” said Clowney, who admits the hit was a momentum changer.
“It changed it a lot,” he said. “We needed to make a big play if we were going to win the game.”
Clowney was the outstanding defensive player in the Southeastern Conference this season. Clowney could probably start in the NFL right now, but the plans are to return for his junior season, which would be a welcome decision for Steve Spurrier.
Clowney is a popular player among his teammates and for good reason. His teammates rally around him.
“I am blessed. That’s what the guys always say ‘You are blessed,’” he said. “We got eleven wins this season and we sent the seniors out on top. That’s what we wanted to do.”
Clowney’s entire career has been memorable and thanks to one outstanding play now there will be an image that will forever have a special place in the heart for all South Carolina fans.