In the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina beat Wisconsin 34-24, giving Steve Spurrier's team its third straight 11-win campaign. As the Gamecocks got the win, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney did what he's done all season: show flashes of elite talent that make the NFL folks drool.
Then the junior, live on ABC, told the nation something everyone already expected: he was declaring for the NFL draft.
The victory over Wisconsin went like much of the season for the defensive end shouldering Herculean expectations. Those who know the game saw a guy capable of being a star in the NFL, while number watchers walked away disappointed.
New Year's Day was another sackless outing for Clowney, something the stat-watching critics have bemoaned for much of the season. This game fit every narrative of the season with respect to the Clowney angles. It gave those saying the junior was lazy plenty of ammunition, something B/R's Ian Kenyon pointed out.
Yet, Kenyon and others who look past the numbers got another shot to see Clowney show why he's so high on so many folks' NFL draft boards. Against Wisconsin, Clowney forced the quarterback to throw before he was comfortable, showed off a newly developing skill of batting down passes and demonstrated the athleticism to pursue plays away from him. The junior also drew the double team to help his teammates force the issue against Wisconsin.
The package is very much there for the next level. Clowney showed that in his explosion, but also showed how much work he has to do from a polish standpoint when he arrives in the NFL. He's a player still looking for a reliable pass-rush move and a backup plan for when the speed rush off the edge does not get him to the quarterback.
He can certainly learn that at the next level. What his future NFL coaches will not be able to teach is the first-step quickness, the raw power he generates through his explosion or the speed that helps him track down ball-carriers.
This year's Capital One Bowl was Clowney's season, in a veritable nutshell. Glancing at the numbers does not do his performance justice. Stat sheets are never kind to defensive players; in the case of a guy facing runs away from him, quick passes to thwart his rush efforts and doing little things to help his teammates, the numbers are even more unforgiving.
Clowney's ready to hit the next level, and in his final game, the junior reminded the collegiate landscape that he can still do special things. Some NFL team, likely near the top of the draft, will be quite pleased with its first pick.