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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Deconstructing the myth of Jadeveon Clowney

After The Hit, the Jadeveon Clowney hype went out of control, creating unrealistic expectations. As you would learn in any intro sociology or psychology class, unmet expectations lead to frustration and conflict. Clowney is frustrated with the coaches, the coaches are frustrated with each other, the fans are frustrated with the universe, and ESPN has a new explanation every week for why their low-watt star has been, to this point, all smoke.

The newest explanation is my favorite - bone spurs. Apparently, a condition that he has dealt with since high school and didn't merit attention during the offseason is an explanation for his struggles. I played football and baseball with bone spurs in my foot. I developed a stress fracture as a result. It's not ideal, but it has nothing to do with Clowney's lack of production.

The real explanation for Clowney's lack of production is that there is no lack of production. We confused myth with reality (and by "we" I mean you, not me; I've seen through this from the beginning). The fact of the matter is that Clowney 2013 looks very much like Clowney 2012.

In the chart below I've laid out Clowney's statistical production through 2 games, 3 games and for the entire season, and then below that I calculated the production per game. Like 2013, he got off to a slow start in 2012; in fact, his 2013 numbers are better. Only in his third game of 2012 did Clowney make his presence felt (statistically).

Using his production per game so far, in the second to last column I project his production through 13 games. He is on pace to significantly lower totals in 2013, but the gap is not as large as we might believe. In the final column I calculate what Clowney would need to do in game 4 to put him back on his 2012 pace. Seven tackles, 4.5 TFLs and 2 sacks - less than what he did against Clemson last year - and Clowney would be ahead of schedule.

The bigger issue is that the USC defense has struggled, and this is ultimately where we have been misled. On offense, the quarterback is the offense. Other players make contributions, but a great quarterback can make any offense good, and a bad quarterback can make any offense dysfunctional. There is no equivalent on defense. At the end of the day, Clowney is one player, one very good player, on a defense with serious question marks. He alone can't overcome that.

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