Back before The Hit, before the ESPYs and before the Heisman hype, The Citadel football team played against Jadeveon Clowney.
In 2011, Clowney was 6-6 and a “mere” 254 pounds (he now weighs 274), and was a backup defensive end behind South Carolina stars Melvin Ingram and Devin Taylor.
The Bulldogs, finishing out a 4-7 season, played the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on Nov. 19, 2011. USC was on its way to an 11-2 mark and had a date with rival Clemson the following week.
USC won the game by 40-21, though the Bulldogs showed some hints of the season to come (they went 7-4 in 2012) by rushing for 241 yards in their triple-option offense.
Clowney finished the game with three tackles, one for loss, all in the second half. Two plays in particular stand out in Citadel coach Kevin Higgins’ mind.
On second-and-8 from midfield in the third quarter, Clowney snared Citadel QB Ben Dupree for a 2-yard loss.
“Ben came to the sideline and I asked him about his read,” Higgins said. “I said, ‘Ben, why didn’t you give it to the fullback?’ He said, ‘Coach, that defensive end came down and took the fullback.’ So I said, ‘Why did you end up keeping it?’ And he said, ‘Coach, he had one arm on me, too.’
“Basically, Clowney eliminated all three options before we even started the play. We’d never gone against a guy with that length before.”
In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs ran a pitch to the outside. Fullback Darien Robinson went to cut block Clowney, and the two players ended up helmet to helmet.
“I’ll never forget it,” Higgins said. “We have it on film. Melvin Ingram is on the field, and Clowney gets up and starts to wobble. Ingram grabs him and turns to the sideline and points, like he needed help. He came out of the game and never came back in.”
Clowney was diagnosed with a concussion, though he played the next week in a 34-17 win over Clemson and was credited with a sack.
In theory, a triple-option team does not have to block the defensive end, but rather can “read” him with the option.
“That theory did not work as well as we would have liked against Clowney,” Higgins said. “We ended up going to the other side a lot.”
Higgins said he was impressed with Clowney two years ago, and is even more impressed now.
“With all the hype he’s had, and the chance to be the No. 1 pick, he’s worked hard to get his body where it needs to be,” Higgins said. “He’s certainly developed into an elite player.”