From trick plays to fake punt returns, there have been countless memorable plays in college football history. However, there is no hit more memorable than defensive end Jadeveon Clowney‘s blast against Michigan on New Year’s Day back in 2013.
The South Carolina Gamecocks star entered that Outback Bowl as one of the top defensive players in the country, but an Earth-rattling hit on Wolverines running back Vincent Smith completely changed how the world would see Clowney moving forward.
As a part of the 2011 recruiting class, Clowney was viewed as one of the most-talented recruits in a decade. 247Sports even gave him a perfect grade of 1.0000, just one of five in their history to receive that score.
He quickly showed why he was so highly-touted coming out of high school, posting 36 total tackles with 12 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and five forced fumbles as a true freshman for the Gamecocks.
The following season, as a sophomore, Clowney somehow improved on his impressive freshman stats. He entered the final game of the season with 50 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, and two forced fumbles. However, the highlight of his college (and maybe entire football) career came in South Carolina’s bowl game against Michigan.
Jadeveon Clowney Hit vs. Michigan
With eight minutes and 22 seconds remaining in the game, and trailing by one point, the Wolverines had the ball close to midfield. On first down, Clowney burst through a gap between the left tackle and tight end, sprinting into the backfield. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner turned to hand the ball to running back Vincent Smith, and the rest is history.
As soon as the ball touched Smith’s hands, Clowney hit him with every bit of force possible. Not only did the blast cause a fumble, but it also forced Smith’s helmet to fly off his head and out of the highlight frame. And while he was lying on top of the damage he had just caused, he also picked up the ball with one hand to give his team great field position.
On the very next play, South Carolina would take advantage of the turnover with Connor Shaw hitting Ace Sanders for a 31-yard touchdown to take the lead. Michigan would score a touchdown less than five minutes later to regain the lead, but USC backup quarterback Dylan Thompson hit Bruce Ellington for a 32-yard touchdown with 11 seconds left to win the Outback Bowl.
Not only did the hit go on to be huge in that game — leading to a score for his team — but also for Clowney’s NFL Draft stock. That play was the talk of sports for a while and led to Clowney being seen as probably the best defensive player in the country heading into his junior season. Obviously, the hit didn’t make him the best player, but it opened anyone’s eyes who wasn’t already paying attention to what the dominant defensive end had been doing for two seasons.
His junior season didn’t play out how most would have expected, finishing with just 11.5 tackles for loss and three sacks on the season. A lot of that definitely came from opposing teams refusing to let him make plays, double and even triple-teaming him. His motor came into question at times, but it didn’t prove to be a big deal when the draft came around.
After declaring for the 2014 NFL Draft, Clowney was selected with the first-overall pick by the Houston Texans. Though he had some injuries in his five seasons with the team, he recorded 29 sacks in that span and was selected to three Pro Bowls.
Before the 2019 season, Clowney was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, where he would become the center of talk around another big hit in the postseason.
Jadeveon Clowney Hit vs. Carson Wentz
After a solid first season with the Seahawks, they traveled to Philadelphia to play the Eagles in the NFC Wild Card game. During a first-quarter scramble by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, Clowney came late and led with with his helmet into the back of Wentz’s head as he was falling to the turf.
The helmet hit, which went without penalty, knocked the star quarterback out of the playoff game with a concussion and brought backup Josh McCown into the game. It ultimately helped the Seahawks past the Eagles and into the next round of the NFL Playoffs.
This article was originally published February 14, 2020.