Trash-talk is as much a part of football as mouthpieces and the 10-yard lines. Theres something about playing a game of such brutal savagery that requires telling an opponent about how badly hes about to be pummeled, and then doing ones best to complete the act.
Lorenzo Ward understands that.
He described himself as a talker when he was crashing his crimson helmet into the blues, yellows and whites of the SEC from 1986-89. His only edict: You talk, best be prepared to prove it. Which is why hes not really worried about star defensive end Jadeveon Clowneys comments last week at SEC Media Days, but is hoping that Clowney will walk the walk when it comes time.
I tell the guys, if youre going to talk, you got to back it up, Ward said this week. Im going to remind JD when were playing Georgia, when were playing Clemson, those quarterbacks are the ones you talked about. So theyre going to see how you play.
When he spoke in Hoover, Clowney rather offhandedly mentioned that some quarterbacks, namely Georgias Aaron Murray and Clemsons Tajh Boyd, are afraid of him.
I can tell Tajh Boyd is scared back there, he said. He aint no sitting duck, but you can see it in his eyes, he is scared of our D-line.
Its true that neither the Bulldogs or Tigers have beaten Clowney, and hes put a world of hurt on each quarterback in his four combined games against them. But with Georgia waiting on South Carolina on Sept. 7 and Clemson coming to town on Nov. 30, it seemed a curious case of poking the sleeping bear.
Ward has no problem with what Clowney said.
Im behind JD 100 percent, he said. Whatever he said, hes on my team.
Yet there is the wonder will Clowney back it up?
We all like to say things different ways, Ward said. Sometimes they dont come out the way because we dont think before we say them. He has the ability to back it up, I can tell you that.
Ward was hesitant about brushing the comments aside as silly preseason banter because he knows full well what trash talk can become, if not backed up. He saw it, in his first year as USCs defensive coordinator.
The Gamecocks strutted into LSU last year with a 6-0 record and their biggest dreams still in front of them. Watching his defensive backs warm up at midfield, Ward heard safety D.J. Swearinger, a player whose reputation as a headhunter was balanced by his unflagging devotion to play every down like it was his last, say something to LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Swearinger told Mettenberger that No. 7 was going to knock him out of the game. Clowney, Ward said, never said a word. But Mettenberger apparently believed he did, or used it as motivation he cheerfully acknowledged at SEC Media Days that when Clowney talked trash to him, I almost crapped my pants.
Mettenberger told his offensive linemen of the boast, and LSU promptly handed USC its first loss, 23-21. Clowney was effectively neutralized as the Tigers rolled up 406 yards, the Gamecocks highest allowed total at that point and what became their second-highest of the season (Tennessee eclipsed it but still lost to USC).
LSU left tackle Josh Dworaczyk said that Clowneys threat motivated him to play harder. Mettenberger rubbed it in, saying, Im guessing theyre looking dumb right now with the loss on their record.
Ward knows how things can get misconstrued on the field or in the locker room, and he thinks thats exactly what happened at LSU. He used it as a teaching point.
Theres always somebody better than you, Ward said. Theres always the moment where youre going to get got. You try to make sure that those moments are few and far between.
When he heard of Clowneys comments, he understood but hoped that Clowney would be ready to back it up once he faces Murray and Boyd. He and coach Steve Spurrier have previously said that their only complaint with Clowney is getting him to play at 100 percent on every snap, and if he does that, his talk will become gospel.
I think it gave (LSU) motivation to block their butt off like they did all night, Ward said. I was like, If yall are going to talk that junk, you better be able to back it up. That situation woke up kind of a giant.