More than just the Athletic Freak

Junior Jadeveon Clowney might be one of the most athletically gifted defensive ends to ever play college football, but it's him and the other major contributors on South Carolina's defensive line that have Wisconsin knowing they are up against a huge challenge.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Every time sophomore left tackle Tyler Marz flipped on ESPN last spring to catch up on the news of the sports world, one constant ended each broadcast: Jadeveon Clowney.

While Wisconsin was sitting in the locker room preparing to play Stanford in the 99th Rose Bowl on the California coast, Clowney was registering the play of the year in the Outback Bowl in Jacksonville when he broke through the line of scrimmage at the snap, hit a Michigan tailback so hard that the runner's helmet flew off and caused a fumble that he recovered.

The hit was on a daily homage, but Marz chose to look at what didn't happen on that play to serve as a reminder of how quickly Clowney can make a move.

"There was definitely a scheme mistake there," Marz said, referring to the left tackle and tight end failing to lay a hand on Clowney. "Somebody wasn't on their assignment. It's a good reminder of what can happen when you are going against an athletic guy. If you leave him unblocked, he might do something that won't be so good."

A good chunk of No.19 Wisconsin's preparation for playing No.8 South Carolina in Wednesday's Capital One Bowl is trying to neutralize Clowney; a 6-6, 274-pound freak athlete, who Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has called the best college defensive end he's ever seen, and one who has a chance to go as the top overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

Clowney's hit on Michigan's Vincent Smith was the cherry on top for a banner sophomore season, finishing with 23.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and named a unanimous All-American. Clowney continues to draw headlines throughout this season, but not all positive.

He's been slowed by injuries and has had his effort questioned during games, even by head coach Steve Spurrier. A late scratch against Kentucky when saying he was dealing with rib and bone spurs in his right foot, Spurrier questioned Clowney's commitment, saying, "If he wants to play, we'll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to."

Once talked about as a player who might benefit himself from sitting out this season to limit the chance of injury to the odds of him becoming the second defensive player to win the Heisman, Clowney's latest headlines have been about his speed.

On Thursday, he got a second ticket this month, this one for going 84 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone. Previously, he was ticketed for going 110 mph in a 70-mph zone. While Clowney has been sucked up into those headlines, Marz and UW's line isn't being fooled.

"He's athletic, he's long, he's physical and he's one of the bigger guys we've seen," said Marz of Clowney, who has 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks this season. "He's an athletic kid. He makes you have to play balanced and physical. He can mess with your schemes."

Although Clowney's numbers are down, his presence alone has turned his teammates into a wrecking crew. Junior Kelcy Quarles, a 6-4, 298-pound tackle, lines up next to Clowney (making it difficult to double team both players) and leads the South Carolina defense with 9.5 sacks and 13,5 TFLs. Both are first-team all-SEC selections.

Offensive line coach T.J. Woods has studied South Carolina from this season and last, and says Quarles' numbers are more of product of his abilities rather than Clowney's presence.

"He's just that good," said Woods. "You have to give the kid credit. He's a heck of a player. He's disruptive, he's in the backfield a lot and a lot of schemes that don't involve Clowney, it's still him making plays. He's a tremendous player."

Wisconsin can't run to just one side either, as defensive end Chaz Sutton has two sacks, 7.5 TFLs, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. South Carolina also is a combination of a variety of looks, according to Woods, some familiar and some not-so-familiar with what UW has seen this season.

"I think the combination of their physicality and their athleticism makes them unique, and makes them effective," said Woods. "They have their own flavors to things."

Marz was honest in saying that he believes the other members of the Gamecocks' defensive line is a little underrated with amount of attention Clowney receives. He was also honest in saying that this would be a tremendous bounce back game for him since he'll likely draw the assignment of blocking Clowney.

Battling through an ankle injury suffered at Iowa for the last half of the season, Marz struggled in pass-protection in the 31-24 loss to Penn State, causing Woods to pull him in the fourth quarter and shift senior Ryan Groy to left tackle from left guard.

Marz, who stood up well to BYU's top pass rusher in Kyle Van Hoy despite the ankle, didn't use the injury as an excuse and proclaimed himself the healthiest he's been in weeks.

Not only is it a big opportunity for Marz, but for a Wisconsin offensive line that was better than expected for most of the season, yet anxious to wash out the bitter taste from a disappointing performance in the final regular-season game against Penn State.

"It's a great opportunity, a good challenge for us, one last opportunity playing next to Ryan," said Marz, who says he's nearing 100 percent. "Hopefully we can come out on top and it'll be a positive note for us to end on."

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