"I couldn't duck or try anything," Smith said. "My head wasn't even down and that's why my helmet popped off."
Video of the hit, where Smith's helmet flew a few yards up the field, his dreadlocks flying as he fell to the ground, went viral.
Smith has shrugged it off, saying he watched it "two or three times" when he got back home after the Outback Bowl and then moved on. Now, a couple of weeks after the hit, he said he didn't even really feel it, evidenced by his reaching for the ball as he was falling to the ground and popping up right after.
It looked, he said, worse than it was.
"Oh yeah, it did," Smith said. "I saw it and was like, 'Dang.' "
South Carolina defender J.T. Surratt said it sounded like a "car wreck." Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree said he knew something big had happened because of the reaction of the crowd, which he noticed had stood up.
When Roundtree went back to the team hotel after the game, he saw the replay and said, "Gosh."
The simple explanation of what happened is Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan called a change in the blocking scheme, and unfortunately for Smith, it gave Clowney an open path to him.The Gamecocks called a blitz before the play -- something Smith recognized in pre-play reads -- and his fullback chose to block the cornerback coming from the left side, where the run was supposed to go, instead of trying to take Clowney up the middle.
Before the play, Smith figured he was going to be hit in the backfield and would have to break a tackle, either from the corner or someone up the middle. He didn't anticipate everything falling apart as it did just as quarterback Devin Gardner tried to give him the ball.
"I saw it coming and I couldn't do anything about it," Smith said. "When Devin gave me the ball, he was looking behind him so he didn't even see. He looked back and he handed me the ball as I was making my pocket."
The handoff led to a hit that likely will be replayed over and over until Clowney moves on to the NFL.
Smith's older brother, Jaworski Bowie, actually took the impact of the hit harder. Bowie texted his younger brother, perturbed the hit was being shown ad nauseam.
It reached the point where Smith told his brother to stop. Smith wasn't bothered by it, so why should his brother be? Besides, Smith said, he has been hit harder.
"He was just saying he was tired of seeing the video and people talking about it," Smith said. "You know how a big brother is over their little brother. I'm like, 'You're good, man. You're acting like you're the one who got hit. I'm straight, man.' "
Smith joked on the sideline with his teammates that the hit likely would be on ESPN later that day -- it was -- and after the game he received text messages asking how he was doing.
The answer? It might not have looked pretty, but Vincent Smith is doing just fine.
"You've got to get it out of your head because I'm going to bounce back and turn it into a positive," Smith said. "I saw it later on ESPN and yeah, he got me. And I forgot about it."