Capital One Bowl Primer: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina
By Marco Scola
Both teams arrive in Orlando for the Capital One Bowl with a nagging feeling of unfulfilled potential. South Carolina began the season sixth in the AP poll, but losses to Georgia and Tennessee derailed their BCS dreams. Meanwhile, Wisconsin began the season ranked No. 23 and nearly battled their way into a BCS game of their own before dropping three games by a combined 16 points.
Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier is appearing in his 20th career bowl game, while Badgers coach Gary Andersen has taken his team to a bowl game in his first year at the helm. This is Andersen’s third-straight bowl game; he previously appeared in back-to-back Famous Idaho Potato Bowls at Utah State.
On paper, this game has all the ingredients to make a classic bowl game, but will it shape up that way?
Motivation: One year ago, Wisconsin demolished Nebraska, 70-31, in the Big Ten championship game and headed to a third consecutive Rose Bowl when Bret Bielema left the program for Arkansas. Despite Badgers legend and director of athletics Barry Alvarez returning to the sideline to coach the Rose Bowl, a deflated Wisconsin squad fell to Stanford, 20-14.
Wisconsin posted a respectable 9-3 season under Andersen with six Big Ten victories, two more than Bielema’s last regular season. But seven-point losses to Ohio State and Penn State and a controversial two-point loss to Arizona State make the Badgers feel as if they should be destined for a BCS bowl. The Badgers can play the what-if game all year long: What if the referees properly spot the ball in Tempe and give us a shot to win the game? What if we get one more drive out of our offense to beat the Buckeyes? What if we get one more stop to beat Penn State? There is no better way to avenge those losses and finish off Andersen’s first year in Madison than beating the Gamecocks in Orlando.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: Wisconsin epitomizes smashmouth Big Ten football. They rank third in the conference in rushing offense with 3,396 yards and 35 touchdowns while also finishing top three in the conference in rushing, passing and total defense. Wisconsin boasts one of the best running back tandems in the nation with sophomore Melvin Gordon and senior James White. The Badgers are no slouch in the passing game either, led by dynamic senior Jared Abbrederis, who racked up seven touchdowns and 1,051 receiving yards.
Weakness: It seems the magic number to beat the Badgers is 31. Their defense gave up 32 points in the loss to Arizona State, 31 to Ohio State, and 31 to Penn State. In the Badgers’ nine victories, they gave up an average of just nine points per game, including two early shutouts over UMass and Tennessee Tech, and 10 points or less to Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota. However, the Badgers are susceptible against teams that can score at will through the passing game. South Carolina needs to attack the pass defense in order to win.
Motivation: The Gamecocks had BCS and perhaps national championship aspirations at the start of the season, but an 11-point loss to 11th-ranked Georgia on the second week of the season and a 23-21 loss to Tennessee derailed South Carolina’s party train. As if the computers didn’t already have enough reason to dislike the Gamecocks, South Carolina defeated a terrible Kentucky team by seven and a terrible Florida team by just five. But the Gamecocks earned double-overtime victory over fifth-ranked Missouri, trounced sixth-ranked Clemson and beat Fiesta Bowl-bound UCF on the road.
Spurrier has his Gamecocks playing tremendous football since their loss to Tennessee two months ago. South Carolina comes into the Capital One Bowl on a five-game winning streak and look to prove their worth over the Badgers on New Years Day.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: South Carolina boasts one of the most balanced offenses in the SEC, finishing fifth in rushing and sixth in passing. Connor Shaw threw the ball well and rushed for 511 rushing yards and five touchdowns, making him one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the nation. Running back Mike Davis added 1,134 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Long story short, South Carolina’s offense is dangerous, and the defense is just as lethal. South Carolina ranked third in the almighty SEC in total defense, fourth in passing defense and second in rushing defense. And all of this was done with a sub-par season from defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Weakness: Speaking of Clowney: Is it fair to list him as a weakness? Absolutely not. Consider this a challenge. Last season Clowney exploded onto the scene (quite literally; just look at his highlight tackle from the Outback Bowl) and racked up an SEC-best 23.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and 13 sacks. This year, Clowney forced one fumble, had 10.5 tackles for loss (tied for ninth in SEC), and notched just three sacks.
This is a challenge to Clowney, who will bolt for the NFL the moment the game ends, to end his career at South Carolina with a signature game against the Badgers. Wisconsin will use White and Gordon to attack the Gamecocks’ defensive line, which they hope will open the passing game for quarterback Joel Stave and Abbrederis. This isn’t an indictment of Clowney, rather the entire South Carolina defense. The SEC prides themselves on being the best defensive conference in the nation, while six teams in the conference give up more than 400 yards per game. This is South Carolina’s opportunity to prove their worth.
Las Vegas Hilton Line: Wisconsin -1.