Both have a spot among the top individual plays in South Carolina football history, but D.J. Swearinger’s hit was more impressive than Jadeveon Clowney’s.
Swearinger flexed over Andre Ellington after popping the Clemson running back in Death Valley. A few weeks later in the Outback Bowl, Clowney knocked the helmet off Michigan running back Vincent Smith.
For a half-hour on Wednesday, during the SEC Network’s South Carolina takeover, ‘The Hit’ was featured as the ‘Gamecock Great Play.’ South Carolina play-by-play man Todd Ellis hollered like a wild man and ESPN’s Mike Tirico and John Gruden oohed and awed as the highlight played on repeat, from different angles.
It’s an impressive hit, no doubt. There’s just one issue.
The SEC Network should have devoted at least 15 minutes of the program to Swearinger, whose hit was actually more impressive.
As a Clemson reporter at the time of the hit Swearinger’s hit on Ellington, it’s going to be tough to forget who the key figures were in that play. The same could probably be said by anyone whose connection to the South Carolina/Clemson rivalry includes that game in 2012.
And, no offense to Vincent Smith, but outside of Ann Arbor, who the heck remembers that he was the guy who got destroyed by Clowney?
That all just speaks to another point, which we’ll get that a little bit later.
Smith had a fairly productive career for the Wolverines, rushing for 1,269 yards and 10 touchdowns over 272 carries. Those numbers are slightly better than what Ellington did in each of his final two seasons in college.
Since leaving Clemson, Ellington has been productive for the Arizona Cardinals, accumulating 13 touchdowns with 1,697 yards rushing 999 yards receiving during his 4-year NFL career.
In the open field
Generally speaking, an open field tackle should be more impressive than going unblocked off the line.
Seeing a defensive end move like Clowney moves is rare, but he didn’t have to do anything special on that play. He got off the ball and into the backfield with barely a finger laid on him. Smith, who probably didn’t have time to blink after taking the handoff, was the first Michigan player to slow him down on the play.
Shoot, there’s probably going to be a day when the NFL refers to Smith as a defenseless ball-carrier. Clowney’s hit will make for great teaching tape.
Swearinger met Ellington at full-speed in the alley. Was he unblocked? Sure, but Ellington was 9 yards past the line of scrimmage. Plus, he’d already avoided one tackle and picked up the first-down.
Difference in size
Swearinger, now a strong safety for the Washington Redskins, is listed on the team’s website at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds. Ellington’s currently at 5-9, 199, according to the Cardinals.
Smith is listed at 5-6, 175 pounds on Michigan’s 2012 roster. Clowney, even though he’s a little bigger now than he was back then, is in the neighborhood of 6-5, 270.
At least Swearinger was picking on somebody his own size.
On the road against your rival is a big deal. Bowl games, at least to the level of the Outback, are also pretty important.
But ask any South Carolina fan which game they’d rather win during any given year, the Clemson game or the bowl game?
It’s not even close.
Knocking a dude’s helmet qualifies as awesome, no doubt. However, somewhere on the spectrum, there’s a place for what happened to Ellington after his shoulder met Swearinger’s.
If you want to say that aspect of Clowney’s hit was better, by all means. That’s hard for anybody to argue.
But knocking Ellington into the air like Swearinger did has to account for something, right?
We don’t need to go into too much detail about the flex, which resulted in a taunting penalty on Swearinger, though it certainly adds to the flavor.