Jadeveon Clowney has been put through the ringer this season.
South Carolina's star defensive end has not only battled the opposition on the field, he's struggled with nagging injuries and questions about his NFL draft stock.
Amid speculation Clowney was milking an injury to stay healthy and protect his draft stock, Spurrier had this to say about his absence from the contest against the Wildcats, per GoGamecocks.com:
I will just say he told me he couldn't play. That his ribs hurt, couldn't run. Said 'I can't play.' I said, that's fine, you don't have to play. We'll move on. He may not be able to play next week, I don’t know. We’re not going to worry about it, I can assure you that if he wants to play, we’ll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to.
If he doesn't want to play, he doesn't have to play, simple as that. We were thinking he was going to suit up and play. He did not practice Thursday. Couldn't run. Said he couldn't play. Any time a player says he's hurt, can't play, who are we to question? He doesn't play.
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement from the old ball coach.
Clowney has dealt with a rib issue over the past few weeks, and he has fallen under an intense amount of scrutiny, which should be expected concerning perhaps the nation's best player.
Previously, Clowney looked sluggish through the first few games of the season, which means he'll have to answer questions come NFL draft time concerning his "football character" as NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks describes via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:
How much will he change from a character/work ethic standpoint when he gets to the next level, and he gets a big check, and he has the money and all the fame and all the lifestyle and the prestige. ... Will he continue to be the guy we expect him to be on the field when he has all the trappings of the life. I'm concerned in that capacity. I think that won't be resolved until we get him at the combine and start to have these serious one-one-one interviews.
The notion that Clowney is selfish and does not love football has spread like wildfire, as referenced by this clip between Colin Cowherd and Kirk Herbstreit:
It has even gone as far as ESPN analyst Paul Finebaum having some unkind words for Clowney on air as documented by ESPN's Joe Schad:
Paul Finebaum on Jadeveon Clowney: His behavior has been disgraceful. He has been the biggest joke in college football.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) October 7, 2013
No, the scrutiny over Clowney didn't stop there. Instead, it has continued to rise to borderline Tim Tebow levels.
On Saturday before South Carolina's contest against Arkansas, the media went so far as to examine whether or not Clowney was on the team bus or drove separately.
As CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman elaborates, Chris Fowler on College GameDay was forced to apologize about an erroneous report of Clowney's choice of transportation to the game:
Chris Fowler apologizes on #CollegeGameDay & says Jadeveon Clowney WAS on team bus: "We made something out of nothing."— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) October 12, 2013
Yes, it's come to this. No, it won't stop, as Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer jokingly pointed out after the pre-game fiasco:
Report: Jadeveon Clowney was on team bus but wasn't wearing his seatbelt. CHARACTER ISSUES? I THINK SO. MY COLUMN:— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) October 12, 2013
But let's get to the good stuff—Clowney took the field against the Razorbacks and was back to his normal self as the Gamecocks did well in a 52-7 win while stunting the Razorbacks' No. 24-ranked rushing attack.
Clowney was a major part of that, as Arkansas found little room to operate on the ground when running in Clowney's direction as ESPN illustrates:
Jadeveon Clowney was on the field for 19 of 24 defensive plays in the 1st half vs Arkansas— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 12, 2013
Update on an earlier stat: Arkansas has 11 rush for 94 yds + a TD rushing away from Jadeveon Clowney, 5 rush for 32 yds rushing at Clowney— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 12, 2013
While Clowney did not fill up the stat sheet, his presence was clearly felt. Last week, the Gamecocks struggled to move past the lowly Wildcats and allowed 123 total rushing yards in a seven-point win.
This week against a top-25 rushing attack (Kentucky ranked just 70th), Clowney allowed the Gamecocks to hold Arkansas to 218 total rushing yards and just one score.
In other words, Clowney's draft stock is just fine.
Clowney will be questioned about his character and effort, but the interviews will not break his status as a top-five selection in the 2014 draft unless he jumps off the deep end in the process and scares teams away.
NFL teams will see on film just how much Clowney impacts each game when healthy like he did against the Razorbacks. That, above everything else—which is nothing more than frivolous scrutiny—will ensure his top-five draft status.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling