Jadeveon Clowney burst into the national spotlight last bowl season for the South Carolina Gamecocks with a hit that will live forever on the internet. That catapulted his status from SEC defensive player of the year in 2012 to Heisman Trophy candidate in 2013. But injuries, illness and offensive game-planning have cut into Clowney’s production this season so when his Gamecocks take the field against the Missouri Tigers, it will be Michael Sam who holds the title of best pass-rusher in this game.
Missouri has been getting after quarterbacks this season in a major way, leading the SEC with 23 sacks in seven games. Sam has been a major part of that from his defensive end position, posting a nation-leading 9.0 sacks this season. Last week, he almost single-handedly kept the Florida Gators from getting anything going on offense, sacking Tyler Murphy three times on the day and getting the football back to Missouri’s highly efficient 2013 offense.
Against South Carolina, he’ll be a huge part of the team’s third-down defense. If the Tigers can slow down the SEC’s leading rusher Mike Davis and force third-and-long situations, Sam will be able to pin his ears back and get after the Gamecocks’ backup QB Dylan Thompson with Connor Shaw out with a knee strain suffered in South Carolina’s loss to the Tennessee Volunteers last week.
If Thompson is forced into long down and distance, his inexperience and lack of chemistry with the receiving corps could force him to hold onto the ball a little longer than he wants to. That will open up the door for Sam to make his mark on this game, put the South Carolina offense into reverse and help Missouri put a strangle-hold on the SEC East division race.
Join Kris Hughes and Tyler Brett for even more analysis of the Missouri/South Carolina matchup live on the Google + College Football Pregame Rant this Saturday at 10:00 am PST/1:00 EST live online! Join us!