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College Football Thursday: Alabama or Texas A&M
By Matt Horkman

The problem with stats is they often don’t reveal the whole story. It’s like reading the back of a book and attempting to write a report about that book from that knowledge. You might be able to sound convincing enough to pass the assignment, but there’s no way you can know what a book’s truly about without actually reading it.

One eye-raising statistic was the production the Georgia offense had while South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was on the field. According to ESPN stat & information, the Bulldogs ran 59 plays with Clowney on the field and they averaged 8.3 yards per play.

Georgia was very successful with Clowney in the game. This is undeniable, but much of that success was because they ran away from him. North Carolina had a similar game plan in the Thursday night opener. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t criticize Clowney for not making plays when the Georgia’s entire scheme predicated on making sure he’s not in position to make those plays. 

Last year, Clowney consistently beat double-teams en route to disrupting running plays and sacking quarterbacks. You can bet offensive coordinators spent all off-season figuring out the best approach to attacking him. 

That approach appears to be just the opposite of attacking him. Against Georgia, by the time Clowney was in the backfield, often times running back Todd Gurley was already running off tackle.Jadeveon Clowney

Stats are polarizing. There are so many of them, and without a consistent model to regulate them, they’re often times cherry-picked so that somebody gets the result they want. Through Clowney’s first two games of 2012, he had six tackles and one sack. Through his first two games of 2013, he has six tackles and one sack. Yet, one year is a disappointment and the other is dominating.

The draft is still seven months away, but Clowney’s combination of athleticism and size makes him one of the most feared college players in the game. An entire week of preparation goes into game planning around beating him. That’s something talking heads or amateurs -- myself included -- cannot understand.

What we all can understand, though, is that South Carolina must now counteract what offenses are doing. The responsibility is now on Steve Spurrier’s coaching staff to put their best player in position to where he’s most effective. Perhaps South Carolina coaches will study the great Reggie White.

In Philadelphia and later Green Bay, White would play inside as much as he did outside. Defensive coordinators based their entire scheme around him, making sure he was in position to disrupt plays. South Carolina must now follow that blueprint. Clowney isn’t as big as White was, but his ability to wreak havoc has many comparing the two. Personally, I think Clowney is much more similar to former Tennessee Titan (and Florida Gator) Jevon Kearse, but that’s an entirely different debate.

Regardless, for the media, it’s about telling the right narrative. They spent an entire off-season building him up and now they’ve begun to tear him down. Often times the latter makes for a better story and sometimes it’s an actual reflection of reality, but any media criticism isn’t going to influence what NFL scouts think of Clowney. It may impact his standing in this year’s Heisman race, but baring injury, Clowney’s a surefire top two pick in 2014.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Draft Watch

Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Outlook: Scouts love Nix’s immense size (350-plus pounds) and movement, so he entered the season as the preseason No. 1 rated defensive tackle. However, last week against Michigan, he failed to make his presence known. In fact, his two best plays came with the game already in hand. It was disconcerting to watch Michigan’s inexperience offensive line push him around in the first half. The Wolverines were able to establish their running game, as a result. It’s just one game, but in general, defensive lineman need to avoid games where they disappear for long spurts. For Nix, this was one of those games.

Stock: Down

Couch Potato Lineup
Last Week: 2-1
Season Record: 2-1

No. 1 Alabama at No. 6 Texas A&M
Time/TV: 3:30 PM EST, CBS
Prediction: Don’t pay attention to the robot-like responses from Alabama players this week. They want revenge. Behind closed doors, this isn’t just any game for the Crimson Tide. Last year the Aggies went to Tuscaloosa and upset Alabama, ending any opportunity for a perfect season. The win also sparked the historical Heisman candidacy for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The controversial signal caller hasn’t looked back ever since. Manziel’s at his best when he gets outside the pocket and that was evident in last year’s meeting. This year, the Crimson Tide must keep Manziel contained within the pocket, forcing the reigning Heisman trophy winner to win with his arm and not his legs. Offensively, Alabama must run the ball to take the crowd out early. Quarterback A.J. McCarron is going to milk the play clock early and often, keeping Manziel off the field, so that he can’t burn them for repeated big plays. I don’t have a rooting interest in this game. As a college football fan, I’m just hoping for a well-played game with suspense in the final minutes.

Alabama 27 Texas A&M 20

No. 16 UCLA at No. 23 Nebraska
Time/TV: 12:00 PM EST, ABC
Prediction: The Bruins play with heavy hearts on Saturday, as walk-on wide receiver Nick Pasquale was killed in a tragic crash early last Sunday morning. Both teams will honor Pasquale at the game. This weekend showcases four Big Ten versus Pac-12 games with the best matchup having UCLA travel to Lincoln to take on the Cornhuskers. Nebraska hasn‘t looked sharp out of the game, especially on defense, where they allowed Wyoming to total 600 yards of offense in their 37-34 victory. Last week, Bo Pelini’s defense played much better, but it was against a bad Southern Miss offense. These teams aren’t strangers to one another. They played a year ago (UCLA won 36-30) and quarterback Brett Hundley gave the Cornhuskers trouble with 358 total yards. Pelini had better have his defense ready or the Bruins could hang 30-40 points on his defense.

UCLA 34 Nebraska 24

No. 20 Wisconsin at Arizona State
Time/TV: 10:30 PM EST, ESPN
Prediction: Wisconsin is the first Big Ten team since the 1963 Ohio State Buckeyes to begin a season with back-to-back shutouts. Of course, the Badgers have played Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech, so I would take the stat with a grain of salt. This game marks the first true test of the Gary Anderson era. Arizona State possesses an excellent passing attack led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, who threw for 300 yards and five touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ opening game victory over Sacramento State. The Badgers will look to keep Kelly and his talented receivers off the field by relying on an insanely productive running game. Running backs James White and Melvin Gordon have combined to rush for 536 yards, with Gordon averaging 12.9 yards per carry. Arizona State plays an aggressive style on defense, so look for the Badgers to incorporate both Gordon and White in the passing game to keep the Sun Devils’ pass rush at bay. The odds makers favor Arizona State, but Anderson‘s proving to be a sneaky-good hire for Wisconsin. His team is buying into his coaching style and they’ll be ready to play Saturday night.

Wisconsin 26 Arizona State 20

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