Remember this vicious hit from the 2012 Outback Bowl between the South Carolina Gamecocks and Michigan Wolverines?
Jadeveon Clowney’s destruction of Vincent Smith, and subsequent fumble recovery, helped the Gamecock’s secure the victory and launched the sophomore defensive end onto the national stage. He was awarded the ESPY for best play for the hit. The hit itself was the perfect cap to a season that saw Clowney finish tied for third in the nation in sacks, set a school record for sacks and tackles for loss in a season, be named a unanimous All-American, win the Ted Hendricks Award for the nation’s best defensive end, be a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, and Lombardi Award, and be voted the 2012 AT&T All-American Player of the Year by fans. (I’ll wait a second while you catch your breath….) Oh, and he’s already being projected as a top-three pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Well, despite all of those accolades, Clowney’s hit was belittled at ACC’s media day. According to a local Greensboro sports-radio host, ACC officiating supervisor (Doug Rhoads) said Clowney’s hit crossed several lines.
Former NFL VP of Officiating Mike Pereira also commented on the hit during the Big 12’s media day.
When you look at the play by the NFL rules of the runner vs. the tackler, I think it would be [an ejection]. That’s where the danger lies. You take what’s perceived to be a great play and it turns into a penalty and an ejection…. Remember what you’re dealing with in targeting. It’s the crown of the head. Not simply the helmet, but the crown of your head [points to top of his head]. Not the forehead. You’re looking for a guy hitting who is looking at the ground.
All of this goes back to a recent rule change made by the NCAA that allows officials to automatically eject players from targeting an opponent.
While the intentions on the part of the NCAA and the officials is in the right place, the hit by Clowney, in my opinion, is a poor example or “targeting.” If the Michigan line didn’t have a complete breakdown at the initial point of contact, Clowney wouldn’t have made it through untouched, and he wouldn’t have had such a clean shot at Smith. Everything about the hit is technically sound, go back and watch it. Sure, Smith’s helmet flying 10 yards in the opposite direction makes it seem that much more vicious, but that happened only because of the sheer force of impact, not because Clowney hit him with his head. He led with his shoulder, got him right between the numbers, and made an exceptional football tackle. End of story.
Saying that he should be punished for doing everything right just isn’t fair to Clowney.