2012 Capital One Bowl: Huskers vs Gamecocks - Offense, Defense, And Special Teams

They're coming and they're almost here!

Happy New Year!

2012 has started, but there's still one more day before your favorite team plays in their last game of the season, and one more chance for us to get to know a little bit more about our opponent.

Gamecock Man joins us from the SB Nation Sakerlina site Garnet and Black Attack, to answer our questions about his team. What kind of offense can we expect, and who are the guys that stand out on defense? All those and more after the jump.

Tell us about the Gamecock offense. What type of offense can we expect to see, and who are the guys who make it go?

The read-option is the Gamecocks' base play. We'll seek to spread the field and establish the run with QB Connor Shaw and RBs Kenny Miles and Brandon Wilds. If we're having success with that, we'll seek to open up the passing game with both some WR screens and TE drags. If we're getting good pass protection, which hasn't always been the case this year, we'll look to throw down field. The main receivers to watch are Alshon Jeffery, who excels on deep jump balls and is very physical in the short passing game, and the smaller, faster Ace Sanders, who is good off screens and is a threat to get open deep. Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd, and Nick Jones are also dangerous receivers. TEs Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson catch the ball well, too.

More specifically - tell us about Connor Shaw and Brandon Wilds. Husker fans have a mantra that mobile quarterbacks cause us fits - what kind of player is Shaw, and what type of runner is Wilds that he's done a decent job of replacing the injured Marcus Lattimore?

Shaw is best running the football. He tends to make good reads in the option game, and he has the speed to turn a good hole into a large gain. He tends to be fairly protective of his body while running the ball, preferring to slide instead of taking big hits. All of that said, Shaw can throw the ball fairly well. He doesn't exactly have a rocket for an arm, but he is very accurate, makes his progressions when he has time, and tends not to turn the ball over. His greatest weakness is likely that he tends to take off running when he feels pressure coming, instead of stepping up and giving the play time to develop. However, that may just as well be a virtue, considering the Gamecocks' struggles in pass protection, and the fact that Shaw has an uncanny ability to turn a likely sack into a seven-yard rushing gain. He also showed the ability to step up in the pocket and throw a good ball against Clemson; this showed his tendency to learn from his mistakes, which is one thing Spurrier loves about him.

Brandon Wilds was the biggest surprise of the Gamecocks' season. A lot of folks--very reasonably--thought we were in big trouble when Marcus Lattimore went down, but Wilds came in and more or less filled Lattimore's shoes without a discernible drop-off in production. Wilds is a big, strong runner who has a nice burst of speed and who has good vision and makes good cuts. He also catches well out of the backfield. His biggest weakness is in pass blocking, where he really needs to improve.

You should also watch for Kenny Miles. Miles was also hurt when Lattimore went down, which is part of the reason Wilds got so much playing time at the moment. However, Miles is back now, and he played well against Clemson and got most of the carries later in the game. He doesn't have Wilds's vision or pass-catching ability, but he's a good back who blocks a bit better than his younger counterpart.

The Gamecock defense looks pretty good, especially against the pass. Is it the defensive line getting pressure on the quarterback that's lead to great pass defense, or is the secondary full of guys that cover extremely well?

It's a bit of both, but, definitely, the pass rush is the defense's greatest strength. The Gamecocks don't have great season pass-rush numbers because we played several teams that run triple-option or Air Raid offenses, but when playing more traditionally minded teams, we've put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and that's really helped out our secondary. The secondary is good, too, but it's vulnerable when we're not getting a lot of pressure. That said, it takes the ball away frequently, oftentimes making up for bad plays by forcing a turnover.

Getting more specific on defense - defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney appear to be an incredible combination. What will Nebraska have to do to counter them and is Clowney, a true freshman, as freakish as he appears or has he just played well against bad teams?

I'd actually say the opposite is true--Clowney has played better against the best teams, and some have questioned his effort in the less high-profile matchups. He had two sacks and a huge late forced fumble against UGA, a forced fumble against Florida, and generally wreaked havoc against Clemson.

One thing that makes it very hard to slow these guys downs is that we have talent all along our defensive line. You mentioned Ingram and Clowney, but coming into the season, most expected Devin Taylor to be our star at end. Taylor has drawn a lot of double teams over the course of the year, and that's allowed other guys to run free at the quarterback. Of course, if you try to double up on someone else, you won't be able to block Taylor. You can also expect to see DT Travian Robertson get in on lots of plays, including in the pass rush.

This game appears to be a defensive battle - one in which field position and special teams are emphasized. How are South Carolina's special teams?

As usually seems to be the case, special teams are one of Carolina's biggest weaknesses. Although Ace Sanders returned a punt for a touchdown in our first game, our return units aren't very dangerous. Our punter, Joey Scribner-Howard, is a wild card who will have a great punt each game, but usually tends to shank one or two, as well. We can't seem to kick the ball into the end zone for a touchback, and while our kickoff coverage is decent, we've given up a couple of long returns.

Our kicker, Jay Wooten, is pretty solid on field goals, particularly in clutch situations, so there is that, but expect Nebraska to have the overall advantage on special teams.

Prediction?

27-21 Gamecocks. The game is close throughout with a couple of lead changes, but the Gamecocks pull through with a late score after playing strong defense in the fourth quarter.

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