Clowney came to the coaches before the game and said that bruised ribs that kept him from practice Thursday were too sore for him to play.
So the 6-foot-6, 274-pound All-American watched the Gamecocks’ 35-28 win against Kentucky from the sidelines, chatting with teammates as South Carolina lost a large lead for the third straight game.
If Clowney “wants to play, we will welcome him to come play for the team if he wants,” Spurrier said after the game. “But if he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to play. Simple as that.”
On Sunday, Spurrier reclassified Clowney’s injury as a muscle strain. Spurrier said the frustration he expressed a day earlier was a result of how late Clowney waited to tell his coaches he wouldn’t play.
“It was just we didn’t know he wasn’t playing until right before the game,” Spurrier said. “That is always a little frustrating. Usually the trainer or doctor comes and tells you this guy is out, and that did not happen last night. But on the other side if a player is in pain and can’t play, I don’t want him to play. None of us do.”
Asked about Clowney’s commitment to the Gamecocks, Spurrier said, “You’ll have to ask him that.”
Spurrier’s kept Clowney on a short leash with the media since early August, letting him speak only after games. Spurrier said that would change this week to give Clowney a chance to explain his injury.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said Saturday he thought Clowney would play during the team’s walk-through and was surprised when he learned he wouldn’t be playing.
“He said he was hurting, but I thought he was going to play,” Ward said. “Love to have JD out there, but we’ve got to put 11 guys on the field.”
Spurrier said Clowney remains questionable for the No. 14 Gamecocks’ game at Arkansas on Saturday.
“We will have to wait through the week to see if he will be able to play,” Spurrier said. “Obviously he doesn’t have a broken leg or anything that would keep him out two to three weeks but if he has a muscle strain around the rib area, we will have to see how long it keeps him out.”
Clowney missed practice Thursday with the injury, but Ward said then it was likely he would be in the lineup Saturday night. Clowney was announced with the starters but came out without his pads when the game began.
He has been bothered by injuries and ailments throughout the season. He was ill before games with North Carolina and UCF, and has also been dealing with bone spurs in his right foot, a problem he’s had since high school.
Clowney has yet to break out this season as opponents have largely played away from his side. The reigning Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year has just 12 tackles and two sacks.
“He may not be able to play next week. I don’t know,” Spurrier said Saturday after the game. “But we’re not going to worry about it, I can assure you of that.”