Despite the fact that some of the country's best most exciting offensive "skill position" players were on the field in Saturday night's Palmetto Bowl rivalry game between South Carolina and Clemson, you can't blame NFL scouts if their eyes never left the line of scrimmage.
South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney showed off the explosiveness which has earned him the top spot on my Big Board all year long, registering one sack, multiple pressures and a few huge hits on Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.
It was his teammate, junior defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, who enjoyed the more productive evening, posting a career-high three sacks in the Gamecocks' 31-17 win.
Every bit as impressive as his South Carolina opponents' however, was Clemson's speed rushing extraordinaire Vic Beasley, whose explosiveness off the edge resulted in two sacks, including a forced fumble of quarterback Connor Shaw.
Beasley, like his South Carolina counterparts, is a junior and there is plenty of buzz in the scouting community that Saturday night's performance would be each player's final contribution to the passionate rivalry.
Clowney flashed the traits of a future first round pick as a true freshman two years ago and - despite constant hype saying otherwise - he's only solidified his stock as a blue chip prospect since. The two others, also juniors, may also have been participating in their final rivalry game as each
The 6-foot-6, 268-pound Clowney attacked the edge with his trademark explosiveness, demonstrating the speed, power and impressive technique (including refined swim and spin moves) to frequently pressure Boyd. While his effort in lateral and downfield pursuit may have been an issue in prior contests, it wasn't against the Tigers as the junior actively followed the ball.
Quarles, 6-foot-3, 298 pounds, feasted off of the one on one blocking afforded to him with Clemson (like every other opponent this season) focusing their attention on Clowney. Big No. 99 certainly took full advantage in this game, slipping through Clemson's interior for a pair of sacks in the second quarter that helped the Gamecocks take a 17-10 lead into halftime.
Technically-speaking, the second of Quarles' sacks wasn't an actual quarterback take-down but the defender was awarded the play when Boyd was called for intentional grounding to avoid his tackle. The play resulted in a 19-yard loss on 2nd and seven from the Gamecocks' 10-yard line, virtually eliminating Clemson's chance at scoring a touchdown and taking some momentum into the second half.
Though Beasley's undisciplined wide sprints around the corner gave Shaw and the Gamecocks plenty of running room off the left side, scouts can't help but note the explosive get-off demonstrated by the Tigers' junior.
Low to the ground in almost a sprinter's stance, Beasley peers in to watch the snap of the ball, exploding off the edge to cross the face of South Carolina's left tackle, Corey Robinson. His burst and quick, active hands ate up Robinson late in the second quarter and Beasley was able to rip the ball free from Shaw for what appeared to be Clemson's first forced turnover in the game.
Unfortunately for Beasley, however, Shaw was able to regain control, helping his own cause as the Gamecocks cruised to the victory in large part due to their 6-0 edge in the turnover battle.