Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Borland, Clowney demand extra attention
By Adam Rittenberg
Gary Andersen has helped compile extensive scouting reports for both defenses appearing in Wednesday's Capital One Bowl.
In the summer of 2012, Andersen, then Utah State's coach, examined a Wisconsin team that his Aggies would face in Week 3. South Carolina's defense has been on the top of his mind the past three weeks, as Andersen prepares Wisconsin to face the Gamecocks.
Four-year Wisconsin starter Chris Borland is set to close out his college career on Wednesday.
Not surprisingly, the South Carolina report is filled with mentions of Jadeveon Clowney, just like the Wisconsin report was with Chris Borland a year and a half ago.
"If you're playing Wisconsin, you're going to want to know where Chris is, and the same thing with Clowney as you're getting ready to play South Carolina," Andersen told ESPN.com. "They deserve that; they're that good. They're very similar players in those areas."
Similar might not be the first term used to link Clowney, South Carolina's junior defensive end, and Borland, Wisconsin's senior middle linebacker. Clowney is 6-foot-6 and 274 pounds, a rare physical specimen who came into college as the nation's No. 1 recruit and could exit as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Clowney recorded a team-record 13.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore, earned unanimous All-America honors and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, leading many to wonder if he should even play this season before jumping to the NFL. He suited up for South Carolina and, despite some speed bumps, still earned first-team All-SEC honors.
Borland is short at 5-foot-11. His recruiting profile next to Clowney's is laughable. He played soccer and other sports growing up, didn't participate in organized football until high school and appeared headed for a Division III school until wowing Wisconsin at a summer camp before his senior season. Of the 17 players in Wisconsin's 2009 recruiting class graded by ESPN recruiting, Borland received the second lowest.
He'll finish his career Wednesday as one of the best defensive players in team history, a four-year starter with multiple All-America honors who earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors this season. His NFL draft forecast isn't as promising as Clowney's -- most mocks have him in the second or third round -- but few defensive players have more accomplished college careers.
"He's as good as advertised," Andersen said, "just like I'm sure the Clowney kid is."
Clowney was the first player Andersen and Wisconsin's offensive coaches discussed when crafting Wednesday's game plan. But the strength of South Carolina's overall front seven, which includes first-team All-SEC tackle Kelcy Quarles and second-team All-SEC linebacker Sharrod Golightly, prevents the Badgers from constantly doubling, chipping or avoiding No. 7.
"Is he consciously in our game plan? Yes. But is every play designed to run away from him? Absolutely not," Andersen said. "We've got to get in there and do what we do. Our goal is to block him and put him a spot where he can't make plays."
South Carolina will take a similar approach against Borland, just like Andersen did with Utah State in 2012. It won't be easy, largely because of the position Borland plays.
Utah State tried to take Borland out of the box with formations to make him play more in space.
"A defensive end is on the left side or the right side," Andersen said. "Chris starts every play usually right in the middle of the defense, so it's harder to scheme if you want to run the ball between the tackles."
The Badgers will need to know where South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney is at all times.
Andersen has never seen a college player quite like Clowney. Wisconsin guard Ryan Groy called the South Carolina star "a breed of his own" and admits there's no one that truly prepare you for his size-strength-speed combination.
Clowney also is an effective gambler, taking chances with inside moves both against the run and the pass. Defensive ends risk losing contain by doing this, but Clowney still usually covers the edge.
"You would never allow a young man who can't recover if he's making those inside moves, but it's also part of their scheme," Andersen said. "They have a backer that overhangs him and pre-snap, it's very difficult to sit there and understand that's what you’re going to get. He does a nice job of not giving it away when he's going to make those moves, and maybe it's just him reacting. Maybe he's that gifted that he feels like you're reaching a little bit and he can come underneath that block, or if you get a little bit on your heels in a pass set, he's either going to right through you or he’s going to come on an inside move.
"They probably don't even look at it as taking chances. They probably look at it as, 'This is our defensive scheme.'"
Clowney has one year of eligibility remaining, but Wednesday marks his final game with South Carolina. He participated in senior day ceremonies Nov. 30.
"He'll be an instant pro when the game is over," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday.
It will be a shock if Clowney isn't one of the first five names called at April's NFL draft. Borland still can boost his stock at the Senior Bowl and other pre-draft events.
His height will come up, but Andersen has received positive feedback from NFL scouts, who liken Borland to two other shorter linebackers, Sam Mills and Zach Thomas, who had 12 Pro Bowl appearances and 11 All-Pro selections in their careers.
"Somebody better take him early because if somebody takes him late, Chris is going to make a whole lot of people look bad," Andersen said. "He’s going to be a great player in that league for many, many years, not just because he's so talented, but because he's such a great preparer and his care factor is as good or anybody that I've ever been around."