Everybody knew where Jadeveon Clowney was when stepped onto the field at Williams-Brice Stadium on Thursday night for South Carolina's 27-10 win over North Carolina.
The ESPN cameras were zoomed in on his every move, Twitter was moving a mile a minute trying to keep up with each move he made in the pass-rush and the announcers were seemingly spending as much time discussing Clowney as they were the actual game taking place around the nation's best player. Most importantly, though, the entire North Carolina offense knew where Clowney was before each and every snap -- even when he was sitting out for extended stretches of the game.
That absence may have been due to a conditioning issue or it may have had something to do with a cut block that left him limping a bit. Clowney insisted it was due to a stomach virus,however, according to Josh Kendall of the State newspaper in South Carolina.
The nitpicking of Clowney was out of control from the outset of the season, however, because the phenom didn't collect a sack and finished with only three tackles Then came the questions. What's wrong with Clowney? Is he out of shape? Will he even last the season as the No. 1 NFL Draft prospect in the country?
Well, it's already time to pump the brakes on the Clowney panic.
It was disappointing to see him miss some snaps, regardless of the reason. Those who are just looking at the stat sheet or waiting for an animated .gif of a massive Clowney hit, however, are missing what makes him such a valuable NFL Draft prospect.
From North Carolina's opening drive, Clowney's impact on the game was evident: the Tar Heels were running away from the massive defensive end on just about every play. When they did drop back to pass, though, the ball was out of Bryn Renner's hands before Clowney had a chance to get into the backfield.
Clowney doesn't get credit for pressure or sacks on those plays but, without him, North Carolina's game plan would have likely been drastically different. The defensive players that are worth planning around are few and far between, but Clowney is one of those players.
A closer look at the opening game of the college football season can reveal how much a player's presence alone can impact a football game.
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