This post continues our series on the memorable plays of 2012. Today we're looking at our penultimate entry, Jadeveon Clowney's forced fumble against Tennessee, which was recovered by Shaq Wilson. Here's the play:
Jadeveon Clowney Sack and Forced Fumble - South Carolina vs. Tennessee - 2012 (via GamecocksOnline)
Clowney is going against Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson on this play. Richardson is considered one of the best tackles in the country coming into this season, a likely first-round draft pick. He blocked Clowney about as well as possible in this game, keeping Clowney away from Tyler Bray for most of the afternoon. Unlike Michigan's Taylor Lewan, moreover, Richardson did a fair amount of his work against Clowney one-on-one. It was an impressive showing for Richardson in what was arguably a showcase of the nation's best defensive end and best tackle working against each other.
However, with the game on the line, Clowney finally beat Richardson. Clowney seems to get Richardson in a one-on-one situation here, although it's not clear if UT LG Isaac Mobley was part of a double-team on the play. Mobley looks like he might be expecting Clowney to go inside. In any event, Clowney makes a good inside fake and proceeds to quickly blow by Richardson to the outside. Richardson tries to hold Clowney to avert disaster, but Clowney is already on his way to the quarterback. He gets there right as Bray rears back to throw, allowing Clowney to force the ball out. Wilson makes a nice recovery in a crowd.
One thing I'd really like to know about this play is who Bray is throwing to, and if that player was open. He appears to be looking to the receiver at the top of the screen, who appears to be breaking free against the Carolina cornerback while you can still see him in the footage. I'm not sure how open that receiver would be, though, as Brison Williams appears to be in zone coverage in the part of the field the receiver is going to. I'm just curious to know whether Clowney not only forced a key turnover here or if he saved a likely touchdown.
At the very least, Clowney saved a likely field goal that might have sent the game to overtime. I'm not sure we win this game if it comes to that; Tennessee seemed to have the momentum at this point, and we might have been on empty after the tragedy that occurred earlier in the game. What's more, you might argue that Clowney's great individual play not only saved this game, but our season, as well. How would a loss against an inferior Tennessee team after Lattimore's injury have affected the team's psychology? Would we have gone on to the same success against Clemson and Michigan? We'll never know, but it's certainly possible we don't recover from the loss and spiral to a disappointing finish.
This play, by the way, fuels what looks to be one of the SEC's best player rivalries going into this season. Although clearly with mutual respect, Richardson and Clowney have traded barbs in the press, and Richardson has stated that this play is at the heart of his motivation to do better this season. It'll no doubt be entertaining to see these two great players square off once against this fall before they head off to the NFL.