Stop Clowney? Georgia coaches just hoping to limit the damage

semerson@macon.comSeptember 3, 2013 

ATHENS - Kenarious Gates' experience in trying to block Jadeveon Clowney - emphasis on trying - was cited by several Georgia coaches on Tuesday, in hoping that the senior will be best equipped to stop South Carolina's all-world defensive end.

But Will Friend, Georgia's offensive line coach, didn't appear so sure.

"Ah, I don't know," Friend said. "I mean he didn't block him last year."

It was a bit of a deadpan humor moment from Friend, who went on to say Gates will proceed "like any other week," and that last year's game against South Carolina was a year ago.

Still, there was no playing down the challenge that awaits in trying to stop Clowney.

"I haven't seen anybody that neutralizes him. He totally takes over games," Friend said. "You put the tape on of the other night, and the speed he's playing with, he's running down bubble (screens) from the other side, he's got the quarterback flustered. I mean the guy's an outstanding period. Pretty much what coach Richt said this summer is what I see. The guy's a great player."

Richt said in July that Clowney is "the best player at any level," including the pros. Richt later tamped it down a bit, but Friend evidently aligns himself with the original statement.

Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo joked earlier this summer about what the plan would be on Clowney: Doing what Burt Reynolds' character did in "The Longest Yard." But he also had a serious plan, and now that the game is upon him, Bobo isn't changing it.

"Don't turn a bad play into a catastrophe," Bobo said after Tuesday's practice. "If the guy's sacking you hold onto the ball. I said it over the summer: The guy's gonna make plays. We're gonna do some different things against him. But he beats double teams, he beats chips, if you've got somebody chipping him, if you've got somebody cutting him, he jumps over it. The guy's a great player. We're gonna have to know where he is.

"But at the same time we've gotta go play ball. We've gotta man up and play ball. And whatever we decide to do on that play to handle him, the other guys have gotta do their job."

The problem for Georgia is that it can't gear it's entire gameplan around one defensive player. But as Bobo pointed out, they can't pretend he doesn't exist.

"Because if we do that, then y'all are gonna rip us and say we didn't have a plan for Clowney," Bobo said, grinning. "We've gotta have a plan for him."

Georgia's coaches also aren't buying the idea that Clowney is in poor condition, having been obviously winded as last week's game against North Carolina went on. The stock answer was that Clowney was playing so hard early in the game that he got tired.

"I thought he was trying to win the Heisman the first 25 snaps how hard he was playing," Bobo said. "He just got a little bit tired, and it was really hot that night. Turn on the tape, and I know they highlighted a few plays on TV. But the guy affects plays when he doesn't make plays. Other guys get sacks because you're worried about him."

Friend didn't watch last week's South Carolina game - he had a birthday party to attend on Thursday night - but he's seen enough film to laugh off the worries about Clowney's conditioning.

"That guy was all over the field last week. He was creating havoc just like he does every week," Friend said.

Dissecting the O-line

Last year John Theus was a five-star recruit who started every game at right tackle for Georgia. When the season opened last Saturday, Theus was on the bench.

So has the staff lost confidence in Theus? Friend answered "no, no" when asked, saying that Theus ended up playing as many snaps as Kolton Houston, who got the start at right tackle.

"It's just who we thought were the best five going into the game Saturday. And we're gonna keep competing as we go," Friend said. "Those guys are rolling enough and competing enough. The guys who are competing the hardest and playing the hardest, it's kinda like how I've said all along, those are the guys we're gonna go with.

"It's a matter of playing your best five. (Theus) is a better player than he was a year ago."

The performance of Friend's group was a big issue in Georgia's 38-35 loss, as it gave up four sacks, and yielded pressure on plenty of other plays. But it was the penalties (particularly holding calls and chop blocks) that were most worrisome for Friend, as well as overall inconsistency.

"You can't have the penalties and the things that we had to put yourself behind the chains, like we did, and have a chance to be successful. But I thought there was a quarter-and-a-half where they played good, then I thought they didn't play very well, then I thought they played well at the end. It was nowhere near a complete game, and you can't win like that," Friend said. "Get after it, and play like you're supposed to play at Georgia, and that's for four quarters, and not a quarter-and-a-half, and then it's not like you're not there for a quarter. They finished the game pretty good. But we need guys to play for four quarters and play like they're supposed to."

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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