University of North Carolina left tackle James Hurst is a 6-foot-7, 305-pound All-ACC offensive lineman. Heading into his senior season at Chapel Hill, he’s a candidate for All-America honors and is on the watch list for both the Rotary Lombardi and Outland trophies. But he’s never gone up against anybody like University of South Carolina defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney …
Also he’s got three newbies lining up alongside him on the offensive line … and no Jonathan Cooper (who was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of this year’s NFL draft).
Clowney? The 6-foot-6, 274-pound Heisman Trophy candidate enters the 2013 season bigger, faster, stronger and in much better shape than last year – when he rewrote the University of South Carolina record book en route to unanimous All-American honors.
And Clowney’s not alone …
While USC lost defensive end Devin Taylor to the NFL draft, the Gamecocks return 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles – a preseason second-team All-SEC performer – as well as 6-foot-5, 263-pound defensive end Chaz Sutton, who is poised for a breakthrough campaign.
In other words any attempt to double-team Clowney (itself a hit-or-miss proposition) opens up rushing lanes for everybody who isn’t wearing No. 7.
This is the key matchup for South Carolina in its season opener against North Carolina on Thursday – and beyond. If USC’s defensive line is as good as advertised (and we have no reason to believe it isn’t), then the Gamecocks less-experienced linebacking corps will have a much easier time of it. If not, then second-year coordinator Lorenzo Ward’s unit will struggle – even with the best player in all of college football terrorizing opposing quarterbacks.
In addition to Hurst, North Carolina will throw redshirt freshman Caleb Peterson into the fray at left guard. Sophomore Kiaro Holts will likely get the nod at right guard next to returning junior center Russell Bodine.
All of them will see plenty of Clowney …
Thursday’s 2013 season opener kicks off from Williams Brice Stadium at 6:30 p.m. EDT. ESPN is televising the game nationally.