Cloninger Soundoff: Clowney needs to step up, be a real leader

Posted by DAVID CLONINGER on September 28, 2013 

UCF Knights quarterback Blake Bortles (5) is pressured by South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) in the second half at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fl, Saturday, September 28, 2013.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

— Jadeveon Clowney is starting to qualify for his own injury report.

After Saturday’s 28-25 win over UCF, Clowney confirmed what Steve Spurrier and Lorenzo Ward had said — he was feeling poorly the day before the game and had to get an IV. Some kind of stomach bug.

Look, I know how talented the kid is. Maybe more than most. I had the privilege of watching him play growing up. It’s why I, and many others, took exception to the comments that David Pollack made during the North Carolina game, when he basically said that Clowney looked out of shape.

With this latest sickness, that makes it a hot day, sickness and bone spurs in the foot that have been bothering Clowney this season. I realize all of those are legitimate reasons to not play as well as one should, and I know game-to-game expectations for Clowney were placed so high this season that it is impossible to reach them.

But USC’s defense needs a leader, and that needs to be Clowney.

Clowney played well on Saturday. Like in other games, he disrupted. UCF didn’t run plays away from him as much as some other teams have, but he pressured and chased and made the Knights take a step back when they could have thrust a few more daggers into the Gamecocks.

But then he sits down afterward, and he confirms he was sick and his foot is bad, and then proceeds to talk about how the other guys on defense aren’t playing as well as they should, either.

I don’t particularly think he needs to be saying it. A leader says, “Know what? We all played lousy today, we’re all going to get to work on it,” without getting too much into specifics.

Clowney said he gave himself a bad grade, beating himself up for missing two sacks. He also said, “We ain’t the same team we were last year. That’s what we fail to realize. ... We don’t have them great linebackers like that.”

He didn’t buy the “youth” excuse, either.

“I think it’s some of the older guys, to be honest,” he said. “The younger guys are coming along great.”

It’s a tricky business, trying to walk the fine line between pointing out bad plays, and also including yourself in them. Clowney did that for the most part, but also said that some of the guys on the sideline relaxed when they thought the game was over, and he pointed out the error of their ways when UCF quickly scored.

The other defenders all look up to Clowney. They’ll believe whatever he says. Instead of being frustrated or pointing out the mistakes as a “There you go again” scenario, it might be better served to be a “OK, WE messed up, let’s WE go make it better.”

USC has decried its lack of a talker, of a leader, on defense. Clowney certainly is no stranger to talking after games.

Perhaps if he stakes his claim now to be that leader on defense, being the one that takes the blame and assigns all the praise elsewhere, it will trigger a change in USC’s defensive season.

And his own.

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