The South Carolina Gamecocks won their opening game Thursday night, defeating border rival North Carolina, 27-10. While the comfortable win keeps No. 6 South Carolina in national title contention, the story of the night was not nearly as positive for the Gamecocks: what was wrong with Jadeveon Clowney?
Clowney, arguably the best player in the country and the presumptive top pick in next April's NFL Draft, looked slow-footed and lethargic throughout the night. He was frequently removed from the game by South Carolina coaches to catch his breath and fought cramps from start to finish. Why was Clowney struggling so much with conditioning, and how worried should South Carolina fans be?
The weather on Thursday night was oppressive, even by South Carolina standards. On-field temperatures were in the mid-90s through most of the first half, with 70 percent humidity. Only the thunderstorm that rolled through Columbia midway through the fourth quarter could break the heat's stranglehold on the game. Clowney fought cramps throughout the game:
Jadeveon Clowney as he's walking away from interview: "Man, I'm cramping up now."— GamecocksP&C (@GamecocksPandC) August 30, 2013
He was also frequently seen rehydrating on the sideline:
How worried should we be? While it's unlikely that the South Carolina summer will extend into November, South Carolina could face some more hot weather before it breaks for good. That could potentially include next week's game against Georgia. Fortunately, the Gamecocks don't have to go to The Swamp.
Worry factor (scale of 1 to 5): 2.5.
Perhaps unbeknownst to ESPN's Jesse Palmer -- who was killing Clowney for his conditioning all night -- Clowney says he spent the last 24 hours fighting a stomach bug:
Clowney says he had a stomach virus last night that lasted until this morning. Says he was exhausted when he came out to the stadium.— Garnet Report (@GarnetReport) August 30, 2013
Steve Spurrier should look for a plastic virus-proof bubble in which he can store Clowney between games. Short of that, players are going to be occasionally sick. It doesn't usually happen twice.
How worried should we be? It depends on where the bug was acquired. Either find a new restaurant for the pregame meal or trade Clowney's football face mask for a medical face mask. He should be fine.
Worry factor: 1.
The weather and virus certainly didn't help, but North Carolina's hyperdrive offense took its toll on the entire South Carolina defensive line. The Tar Heels' strategy: force the Gamecocks into a defensive line rotation and wear them all out by making them chase the line of scrimmage between plays. It worked magnificently for a moment in the third quarter, when North Carolina was moving the ball and South Carolina's defense appeared on the verge of collapse.
North Carolina's defense cracked first, though, giving up a 75-yard touchdown run that blew the game open. The two-hour lightning delay gave the Gamecocks time to catch their breath for the stretch run, as well. When they returned to the field, the Gamecocks looked as good as they had early in the first quarter.
How worried should we be? This one is trickier. The SEC is methodical in its pace, but some of the high priests of hurry-up -- Kevin Sumlin, Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn -- have joined. Fortunately for South Carolina, the only true hurry-up offense on the conference slate is Kentucky, and Kentucky remains Kentucky.
Worry factor: 3.
Spurrier is clearly miffed about Clowney's fatigue. Seemed eager for JC to answer questions from media.— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) August 30, 2013
When all else fails, cheat:
The blatant cheap shot by UNC offensive tackle Kiaro Holts came in the second half, after the game was out of reach and the teams had gone through a two-hour weather delay. It is still dangerous and, given a tackle's blind dedication to protecting his quarterback, not as rare as one might think.
How worried should we be? A pileup at the line of scrimmage provides ample opportunity for similar knee shots hidden away from the prying eyes of referees or cameras. This will not be the last time Clowney gets clipped; the worry is that the next guy will know what he's doing.
Worry factor: 4.
If your concern is for South Carolina's defense, it is misplaced. The Gamecocks' best player was fighting a stomach virus and cramps in 90-degree temps and high humidity in the first game of the season, all while having to sprint to the line of scrimmage between plays and watching for 300-pound human-shaped tree trunks rolling at his legs, and his unit still managed to shut down a North Carolina team that scored 40.6 points per game last year:
Clowney flips over a stat sheet on the table. Wiggles his eyebrows. "You see the total yards they had?" #magical— Holly Anderson (@HollyAnderson) August 30, 2013
Your concern for Clowney is probably misplaced, as well. The weather will cool, the sickness will go away, and the offenses will slow down. More importantly, South Carolina will keep practicing, and practices include sprints, and sprints build conditioning that even Clowney would likely admit he needs to improve.
He finished with three tackles, a handful of hurries, and no sacks. He's had games with three or fewer tackles before, and he's had games without sacks before.
Clowney -- and South Carolina -- should be fine.
Vic Hampton: "I think next week we will be a little more conditioned. I don’t think Georgia moves the ball as fast as they do."— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) August 30, 2013