Advertised as the single best one on one matchup of the college bowl season, the battle between Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was ever bit as closely contested as the Outback Bowl, itself.
Considering that the Gamecocks scored the game-winning touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining, that's saying something.
The 6-6, 256 pound Clowney was the first sophomore to ever win the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's elite defensive end. Only two years removed from his high school graduating class, he is not eligible to enter the 2013 NFL draft, though he'd likely be the first pick.
|This is Jadeveon Clowney. It would be wise to avoid him. (US Presswire)|
Athletic at a towering 6-7, 310 pounds, Lewan is rated as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 12 overall prospect and, as a redshirt junior, is technically eligible for entry into the 2013 draft, should he wish to forgo his senior season.
Lewan's long arms, quick feet and good balance helped him protect the edge against Clowney's speed rush. The South Carolina defender had been able to simply explode off the corner to beat many SEC offensive tackles so talent evaluators questioning whether Lewan had the foot speed to remain at left tackle in the NFL were left satisfied.
Clowney, however, is far from just a speed rusher. His ability to jab-step outside and counter back to the inside gave Lewan problems. Clowney's agility led to Lewan grabbing hold of his jersey on multiple occasions, drawing a flag late in the second quarter. Clowney also possesses an impressive over-arm swim move, which he used, at times, when Lewan would drop his head upon contact.
Both players possess explosive strength and the battling took its toll. Each player was momentarily sidelined with lower-body injuries, proving their toughness and competitive spirit by returning after just a few plays.
Due to one spectacular play, Clowney will be perceived as the big winner in this showdown. If you haven't seen it, make it your easiest New Years' resolution and click here to watch it.
Clowney deserves all of the credit for the unbelievable play but Lewan deserves little -- if any -- of the blame. The left tackle was not responsible for Clowney on this particular snap, releasing to block middle linebacker Reginald Bowens. Michigan tight end Mike Kwiatkowski lined up outside of Clowney and, after being beaten off the snap by the Gamecocks' explosive first step, continued upfield to "assist" Lewan in blocking the linebacker. Meanwhile, Michigan running back Vincent Smith, listed at 5-6, 175 pounds, was having his helmet and the football forcibly removed by Clowney.
Clowney was named the game's MVP in large part due to the breath-taking play. After all, other than this play, he'd recorded "just" three tackles as Lewan and the rest of the Michigan offensive line did a pretty good job of containing him.
If this was Lewan's final game in the maize and blue, he did well after struggling a bit in high profile matchups against Alabama and Ohio State earlier in the year.
At a time when highly touted matchups rarely live up to their billing, this one proved well worthy... and NFL talent evaluators won't soon forget it.