Vols standout Tiny Richardson has some large motivation

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Ninety-eight percent.

Whether that is your grade in a classroom, making free throws, or splitting fairways, if you're successful 49 out of 50 times, you're probably having a great day.

Just don't tell that to Antonio, Tennessee 's mammoth left tackle. He shut down South Carolina 's phenom of a defensive end Jadeveon Clowney for more than three hours last October.

On that day in Columbia, the Vols appeared to be on the brink of upsetting No. 13 South Carolina on the road. They had a first-and-10 inside the Gamecocks' 20-yard-line with 1:19 remaining, down 38-35. Richardson had handled Clowney every snap he faced the Gamecocks All-American in the game. About 49 plays that day, Richardson estimated. Then, Clowney sprung out of his stance, juked outside, faked inside and burst back around the outside, blowing around Richardson en route to swarming a helpless Tyler Bray. Clowney, in the process, knocked the football out, the Gamecocks recovered and the upset hopes were gone.

"He just hit me with a little counter inside head fake and went back out," Richardson recalled Tuesday afternoon. "That was really his bread-and-butter the whole game. I just kinda got lazy with my footwork that play and he beat me. It was the fourth quarter and we were moving down the field pretty quick. I thought I was in the groove of things but just for some reason, he got me. He is a big-time player."

Richardson, who like Clowney, just completed his second college season, says he thinks of that day and facing Clowney all the time.

"I have it marked on my calendar [Oct. 19 in Knoxville] when we play them again," Richardson said. "It's going to be a good challenge for me. He is, hands down, the best defensive end in the nation. I took responsibility for that play last year.

"I was really disappointed. Of course, you want to be 100 percent but also because that is when the game was on the line, and big-time players have to make those plays when the game is on the line. That was just a little technique flaw by me. Little things like that are what makes the difference. I just can't do that."

In 2012, Richardson's first as a starter, he gave up two sacks all season. (The other came against Vanderbilt on a play-action pass.) He says he's working hard to better his understanding of opposing defenses and improving his first step as he adapts to new UT coach Butch Jones and his staff. For Richardson, he's adjusting to his third O-line coach in three seasons, and that means new terminology. But the Nashville native -- like seemingly everyone else around UT -- is excited for the Jones Era. (Editor's Note: I'll have much more on Butch Jones and the Vols coaching transition later in the week.)

In keeping up with the energy of the new regime, Richardson has gone from the heaviest he's ever been at 337 pounds in January to the leanest he's been in Knoxville (down to 16 percent body fat at 326 pounds). He says he plans on playing at 320 pounds in the fall.

How many times has Richardson, a second-team All-SEC pick blessed with nimble feet and impossibly long arms, watched that play?

"The question is how many times have I watched that game?" he said. "It has been a lot. I'm not gonna forget about that play. That's one thing that motivates me every day to get better so I can raise hell against Clowney."

It should be a heck of a rematch.  NFL personnel folks probably can't wait for it either.

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