Last season, it was nearly impossible to escape the praise for South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney. Now, it's just as hard to avoid the bashing.
"He's averaging more excuses than sacks."
"If it wasn't for ESPN, nobody would even mention this guy."
"Clowney is tanking this season because he's already counting the dollars he'll make in the NFL."
Even head coach Steve Spurrier said he needs to step up, per Willie Smith of The Greenville News:
The superstar defensive end has become the punching bag of college football. No, no one has actually laid their hands on the freakish athlete, but everybody has offered an opinion on his performance over the last month—and it's almost always negative.
Last season, Clowney had college football wrapped around his finger with 13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss and 54 tackles. This season? In four games, he has just 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble.
No ESPN highlights. No monster hits. Shoot, he doesn't even lead his own team in sacks.
But those who are quick to criticize him need to start watching the games and not the box score. In today's media world, numbers do most of the talking. The best guys are all supposed to have eye-popping statistics, while the scrubs aren't expected to put up numbers.
Well, here are a few statistics that may grab your attention.
Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles has three sacks, defensive end Chaz Sutton has two and six other South Carolina defenders have at least a half sack already. Sutton is nearly halfway to his sack total from a year ago (five), while Quarles is only a half sack away from tying his total from last year.
How does this happen?
Some would assume they are better than Clowney because the numbers say so. Sorry, wrong answer. This happens because a lot of extra attention is geared toward their teammate. When two or three blockers are put on one pass-rusher, others are freed up to take advantage.
In other words, Clowney is largely responsible for the sacks and tackles for loss; he just isn't receiving the credit. Teams are clearly scheming against Clowney, using multiple bodies on every play to keep their quarterbacks from getting killed.
They're also avoiding Clowney in the running game, running the ball to the opposite side of him to remove him from the equation entirely. North Carolina used this tactic early and often in its season opener against the Gamecocks.
There is one thing that's the same from last season: Leave a tackle out there to block Clowney one-on-one, and this happens:
Numbers don't always tell the whole story. South Carolina still has 12 sacks on the year, which is good for second in the SEC, and its 33 tackles for loss are tied with Vanderbilt for the most in the conference. It's not a coincidence that the team's production is still up there with the best.
As for his NFL draft status? Please.
NFL draft scouts couldn't care less about the numbers. Just because somebody is the man in college doesn't mean he's going to be the next NFL superstar. Tim Tebow, anyone?
You have to have an above-average skill set to be productive in the NFL, and if look at Clowney and don't see a great defensive lineman, well, you shouldn't give up your day job to pursue a career as a talent evaluator.
Numbers always lie, and Clowney will be just fine without them.