Heading into the game, Jadeveon Clowney was the top 2014 NFL draft prospect, and he did nothing but bolster his already hot NFL draft stock in a losing cause against Tennessee on Saturday.
Tennessee rallied late in the fourth quarter to kick a last-second field goal, winning the game at home 23-21 over the Gamecocks.
Clowney had a big game, matching his career high in tackles with seven, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info:
Jadeveon Clowney has tied a career-high with 7 tackles today.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 19, 2013
Unfortunately for South Carolina, the Volunteers were able to exploit its otherwise suspect defense, totaling 325 yards of offense.
One of the reasons Clowney was being venerated during the preseason was that his devastating hit on Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl was played and replayed countless times.
It was a transcendent moment that highlighted the defender's brilliance, but he hadn't been able to replicate another moment like it in the first half of the season.
That's no longer a problem after Saturday's game against Tennessee, however.
Clowney laid into Tennessee running back Rajion Neal on Saturday, decking him before he had a chance to blink and dropping him in the backfield for a three-yard loss.
All the traits that have NFL teams drooling at his pro potential were evident on this one play. He completely out-quicked the left tackle before locking onto the running back, and once Neal was in his sights, there was no escaping the powerful defender.
Talk about reinvigorating the hype machine—Clowney's hit kicked it into overdrive.
That said, it's important to realize that regardless of how much hype Clowney receives in the media he's an elite NFL prospect, as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller alluded to on Saturday:
All the people backpedaling RE: Clowney now. Build up, tear down and now he's back. Guess what? He never left.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) October 19, 2013
Though South Carolina lost the game, thanks in part to some shoddy defense late in the game, Clowney wasn't to blame for the loss.
One man can only do so much, and teams have been effectively calling plays that attack South Carolina's defensive weaknesses.
If the 2014 NFL draft were held today, then there's little doubt Clowney would be the first player taken. At the least, he'd be a top-three pick, based solely on his immense potential for greatness.
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