Aug 29, 2013; Honolulu, HI, USA; Southern California Trojans receiver Marqise Lee (9) carries the ball against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Aloha Stadium. USC defeated Hawaii 30-13. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Clowney, Lee Face Different Scrutiny For Early Struggles


Two of college football’s brightest superstars find themselves struggling through two games. Yet only one of the All-America players faces absurd levels of criticism – and ESPN is the primary culprit.

To date, South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney has not lived up to his considerable urban-legend-like ability. The reaction from critics – specifically on message boards and Twitter – has been almost universally critical, panning and outright mocking.

On the other coast, USC WR Marqise Lee started the season on an equally underwhelming note. Yet the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner has gotten a pass. (Note that he hasn’t received a pass.)

Ironically, Lee’s receiver position is far easier to quantify statistically than Clowney’s. Two games in, Lee hasn’t posted the stats the nation has come to expect of the country’s top receiver.

Seemingly all the evils in the sports world get pinned on ESPN. Many belong classified in the overly critical category. In this case, though, ESPN – and comparable media outlets – absolutely shoulder a big chunk of the blame.

The 24-hour news cycle spent much of the summer hyping Clowney to the point that just about no defensive end in the history of the sport could have lived up to the overwrought expectations.

Lee, meanwhile, largely flew under the radar despite playing a more glamorous position in a far showier location.

There haven’t been roundtable discussions on why Lee hasn’t performed better or why he hasn’t been able to lift a faltering offense. There aren’t live returns to the broadcast booth for further evaluation of Lee’s play minutes after SportsCenter begins.

Lee also isn’t the focal point of every snap the Trojans offense takes.

The media has instead heaped blame on coach Lane Kiffin and the dreadful quarterback situation.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles media – unlike the national media – focused on important, uncharacteristic drops from Lee during a Week 1 win over Hawaii.

A stagnant, unimaginative offense teamed with quarterbacks unprepared for primetime is a legitimate reason as to why Lee’s numbers are off. Last year he caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 TDs in 2012. There year’s pace would have him finish at 97 receptions for 851 yards and has yet to score his first TD of the season.

The point is not to say Lee has played horribly or that his statistical underperforming has led to the demise of a once-great USC offense.

Placing such accusations on Clowney makes no more sense, though.

Like Clowney, Lee has been the focal point for opposing coordinators. The idea has been to make literally anyone else cause problems, but to avoid the two of them.

Those strategies have paid off for opponents, leaving both All-Americans to find their respective teams with a loss by the end of Week 2.

Clowney’s statistics, 6 tackles, 2 TFLs and a sack, are hardly becoming of the nation’s best defensive end. However, he has received little support from a defensive coordinator seemingly unable or unwilling to adjust.

By season’s end, it seems a logical bet that both players will find themselves on the award circuits with their names appearing on All-America lists again.

Their paths to the same place, though, will be entirely different thanks largely to the variations in the way they have been presented to the television audience.

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Tags: PAC-12 SEC South Carolina Gamecocks USC Trojans

  • Gamecock Fan

    Nice article. Regarding Clowney’s stats, through two games in 2012 (games in which he faced neither a pre-season All-American Offensive Lineman on a team which runs a crazy hurry up and only allowed 11 sacks the previous year, nor a legit top ten SEC title contender with one of the nations best offenses) he had six tackles and one sack. He is, statistically, having a very similar year despite teams flat out running away from him this year.

    • Luke Brietzke

      That’s exactly my point, though I didn’t realize he had the same stats through two games. The amount of blame and hate he has gotten nationally is insane to me.