In an unexpected (and last minute) turn of events Jadeveon Clowney didn't play against Kentucky. The word on twitter around gametime was that Clowney had bruised ribs and couldn't go. On Sunday's teleconference Spurrier corrected reports and stated the injury was a muscle strain. The decision not to play has made national news.
Now here is our take….
Unfortunately, we are stuck with a tremendous lack of good, solid information about the situation, which makes it difficult to jump to conclusions. First, we've had poor injury information all season. We've had it about Clowney, whether he had the flu before North Carolina or was sick before UCF. We've had it about other players. Cedrick Cooper and Cody Waldrop were supposed to be out of practice for a matter of days, and their injuries ended up taking weeks to heal. Connor Shaw was scheduled to miss 2-3 weeks, and he was back practicing in two days.
None of these situations appear to be the result of deliberate attempts to mislead; they are the consequence of several factors. One of the factors is that injuries are uncertain. Doctors can be reasonably sure of the cause of the problem and the right course of action to pursue, but the player's response cannot be adequately forecasted. Another factor is the unwillingness of a coaching staff to share every last detail of every last injury with their opponents. That's not just the way South Carolina's coaches are; that's the way sports are. So, when we're thinking about what we know about Clowney's injuries, remember what we haven't known about others.
One complaint about Clowney begets another. Those who have been quickest to jump on Clowney for revealing an injury late before the game have been many of the same who think he has been loafing or is vastly overrated. Many of those don't know what they are talking about. The average football fan knows very little about what good defensive line play looks like. Of course, they know what sacks look like and what big hits look like, but they aren't used to watching anyone except the guy with the ball. All things being equal they have a better idea when a running back is doing poorly than when a defensive lineman or safety is. This ignorance often isn't self-evident, and it doesn't keep those commentators from making wildly inaccurate observations, almost always negative, about Clowney's play. Every hit isn't going to destroy Vincent Smith, and Clowney is going to be blocked on some plays. Neither factor means he isn't a dominant player.
That being said we are still constrained by what we don't know. We do know that the coaching staff appeared miffed or caught by surprise. That doesn't look good. This also isn't the first medical issue attributed to Clowney this season. It may be that Clowney isn't as durable as we thought. He could be looking ahead to the NFL. He may be scared of injury, and the hype may have gotten to him. Maybe he is taking bad advice. These are all speculative possibilities.
And what do we know for sure? Very little. Each week we'll learn more. This week he may practice, or we may learn more about his injury, or he may reveal something in an interview. He may not. If you didn't like Clowney or South Carolina before, you're probably all too ready to assume one of the nefarious motives suggested. If you do like him, wait. See what he does next week. See what we learn next, and if it turns out that he isn't giving his best for South Carolina or he isn't as hurt as he seems, then do as you please, but now, now we just don't know.