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December 20, 2010Look up the definition of 'man-child' in the dictionary and you'll likely find a photo of Jadeveon Clowney.
Saturday's Shrine Bowl in Spartanburg was my first opportunity to watch Clowney play live. I've heard the hype, read the stories and seen the rankings.
I wasn't disappointed.
Clowney was everything I thought he would be and more. He was all over the field making plays and showcasing his tremendous size, speed and strength.
If he wasn't already, his performance convinced me the 6-foot-5, 250 pound Clowney is an absolute must-get for the Gamecocks on Signing Day. Frankly, it would be a major disappointment if a player of his caliber left the state or signed with the main rival after a season in which USC beat Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Alabama, won the SEC East and played in a very good bowl game.
Based on everything I heard after the Shrine Bowl from the players, I'm confident USC will land Clowney and several other outstanding players. Momentum appears to be building for a strong finish by USC that could establish the Gamecocks as SEC East contenders for the next four or five years.
Again, though, nothing is guaranteed in recruiting as we've seen time and time again. Anything can happen and usually does.
That's exactly why the Chick-fil-A Bowl is so important. USC must play sharp against Florida State on New Year's Eve. Must win? Close enough. When you're a recruiting coordinator, every game matters because high school players pay attention to what's going on. If USC lays another egg in a bowl game, it could hurt their recruiting.
Clowney was credited with five tackles, three sacks and two tackles for loss in the final statistics, but his impact on the game went far beyond the numbers. His ferocious pass rush instigated at least five holding penalties on NC offensive linemen.
And the game officials could have called about five or six more if they wanted to. By the third quarter, it was obvious NC had no answer for Clowney, or the entire SC pass rush for that matter, and the officials put their whistles in their pockets for fear of having to call a penalty on every play.
Clowney was only given credit for two quarterback hurries, but the pressure he put on the NC quarterback lasted from the opening series to the last.
Was this the best defense South Carolina has ever fielded in the Shrine Bowl? If it wasn't, I'd like to see the team that's better. The defense only gave up three points because NC's lone TD came on a Pick-6. The drive that ended with the field goals started at the SC 20.
If USC is able to sign Clowney (No. 1 in SC), Lateek Townsend (No. 4), Phillip Dukes (No. 5) and the two Gerald Dixons (the one at South Pointe is No. 11 in SC), it would provide an immeasurable boost to the defensive front seven, which should remain formidable in 2011 even though linebacker still has questions.
The Palmetto State is loaded with defensive talent in this recruiting class and the Gamecocks must take advantage. You win in the SEC with defense, and that won't change in the foreseeable future.
Oh, and don't forget about DL Kelcy Quarles, a 2010 signee who is finally enrolling at USC in January following a semester at Fork Union Military Academy, and JT Surratt, who redshirted in 2010.
If USC can finish the current recruiting cycle with a flourish, they should be set at defensive line for years.
Here's how the D-Line could look in 2011 if all the pieces fall into place for USC: Devin Taylor, Travian Robertson, Melvin Ingram, Aldrick Fordham, Byron Jerideau, Chaz Sutton, Byron McKnight, J.T. Surratt, Corey Simmons, Kenny Davis and Chaun Gresham all return with Clowney, Dukes, Dixon and current commitments Deon Green and Lorenzo Mauldin possibly joining the cast.
Do you think Brad Lawing would be willing to go into SEC battle with that group? Yeah.
Historically, defensive line has been a weakness for USC because they've shown an inability to recruit quality players at that position. But in the last few years, that's changed. It's now a position of strength.
With the USC offensive line showing improvement on a weekly basis, the Gamecocks are finally becoming formidable in the trenches, which should serve them well in 2011 and beyond.
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