Tennessee Volunteers left tackle Antonio Richardson might line up as part of one of the nation’s most experienced offensive lines, but he spends the majority of his time on an island. He prefers it that way.
Jadeveon Clowney salivates over the prospects of a one-on-one matchup, but having garnered full-fledged “War Daddy” status off the edge from talent scouts like NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, he very rarely finds himself in that situation anymore. So on Saturday, when he matches up with Richardson and finds himself out on the island once again, he’ll have a chance to solidify his stance as the top overall prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft.
He’ll also have a chance to make an impact off the edge for a South Carolina team that is still in the thick of the SEC East race. Just like he did last year.
In the 2012 matchup between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Vols, Richardson and Clowney went at each other for virtually the entire game. Clowney was the phenom in the midst of a season that would have made him the top overall selection in last year’s draft had he been eligible. Richardson was the raw talent at left tackle who was trying to make a name for himself.
For nearly 59 minutes, Clowney bottled Richardson up. It was an eye-opening experience to scouts and coaches alike.
The Vols were able to hang around with South Carolina, pulling to within three midway through the fourth quarter and taking the ball into the Gamecocks redzone with a chance to win before it happened.
Or, I should say, Jadeveon Clowney happened.
With 1:08 left in the fourth quarter and Tennessee already in chip shot field goal range to tie the game, Clowney came off the edge and got a step on Richardson. He came off quarterback Tyler Bray’s blindside and hit him from behind, raking his arm and forcing a fumble that South Carolina would go on to recover.
It was Jadeveon Clowney’s only sack of the day, but it was the play that spurned the Cocks on to victory. And, after bottling up the nation’s most explosive defensive end for 58 minutes and 52 seconds, it was the play that stuck in the craw of Antonio Richardson.
For nearly a year now, Richardson has been watching the replay. Was it his footwork? Was he slow off the ball? Should he have optioned for help at the line?
It’s been the single biggest motivating factor for the junior left tackle, and in a season full of disappointments and should-have-beens for the Vols, it was the one pass set that you could circle and say likely cost Tennessee bowl eligibility.
In reality, that game probably earned Antonio Richardson a lot of money. After unseating incumbent starter Dallas Thomas and sliding him down to guard (Thomas would eventually be a third round pick moved back to tackle by the Miami Dolphins, just to give you a taste for Richardson’s talent), it was Richardson’s coming out party. Now, the junior is a virtual lock to leave early for the 2014 NFL Draft (like Clowney), and he looks the part of a Top 15 pick.
Saturday offers a chance for Richardson to shoot even higher on the draft board. Although, Antonio Richardson probably looks at it simply as another shot to prove himself against the best in the country.
For Jadeveon Clowney, it’s a chance at redemption to an… interesting… start to the season. Clowney has dealt with a nagging rib injury and the lingering effects of people questioning just how severe the injury exactly is.
He’s been accused of dogging it on plays and not showing up prepared to play in the opener after being slowed by injury during the offseason.
What he’s also been dealing with is constant double and triple teams, as well as teams plainly running their offense away from the talented specialist. However, don’t expect Tennessee to treat Clowney with kid gloves on Saturday.
Caution, certainly, but not with fear.
They’re confident in their left tackle, and they’ll allow him to work freely against Clowney for the majority of the game. Which sets up a made for television battle that will capture the attention of more than a few NFL scouts.
For Richardson, at stake is a chance to earn a whole lot more money on Sundays and a chance to give his team a signature victory as they pursue bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. For Clowney, a chance to sure up his status as the top prospect in the draft, to stick it in the face of critics who say he’s proving himself to be overrated–a product of the hype machine–and to keep his team in the hunt in the SEC East.
Jadeveon Clowney versus Antonio Richardson, Part II.
I, for one, can’t wait.