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NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: What You Need to Know About the South Carolina Gamecocks

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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By Erin Sorensen

On Monday, Nebraska will make bowl appearance No. 48, facing the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Capital One Bowl. This will be the fourth meeting between the two teams, but the first post-season match-up. The Huskers hold a 3-0 edge over the Gamecocks going into the game slated for a 1:00 PM EST kickoff on ESPN.
To help Nebraska fans get to know more about their opponent, David Cloninger of answered a few questions that have been on the minds of many.
What does Nebraska have to do to keep freshman phenom defensive end Jadeveon Clowney out of the backfield?
Have left tackle Yoshi Hardrick and right tackle Marcel Jones hold their blocks. Clowney’s greatest gift is his ridiculously quick first step and ability to run past undersized tackles, but as was proven time and time again against the SEC, Clowney can be kept off the quarterback by pushing him out of his rushing lane and giving the QB time to step up in the pocket.
SEC officials were very hesitant to call holding on any team this year, something that Clowney felt frustrated by, but then he realized he had to get past it anyway. He’ll switch from left to right and Jones and Hardrick will have another obstacle – if they do block Clowney, they may be freeing up All-American Melvin Ingram and Devin Taylor to attack.
There's talk of SC's interior defensive line being a weakness. Is this an area Nebraska can exploit with Rex Burkhead?
Tackle Travian Robertson is as big and as much of a playmaker as they come, but freshman tackle Kelcy Quarles is still learning and has often been bulldozed by opposing centers. If teams ran a wedge at the middle of USC’s line, Robertson would hold his own but Quarles often couldn’t hold on and was pushed down. Mike Caputo should be able to target No. 99, and as long as Burkhead sees where Robertson is lined up and can go to the opposite, he could have a big day.
How can Nebraska nullify the Gamecock's excellent secondary?
Quick passes. The Gamecocks, due to playing in a 4-2-5 set, play off the receivers and a quick-strike artist, such as East Carolina’s Dominique Davis or Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, can carve that apart. Taylor Martinez has to be wary of lurking spur Antonio Allen, a big-play producer, but cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and C.C. Whitlock are usually playing boundaries and at least eight yards off the receivers. Running slants to get Allen in motion and then throwing to the other guy would be a plan, since linebackers Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens are known more for run-stuffing than intercepting passes.
The last time Cornhusker fans saw Steve Spurrier, it was 1996. What's changed about the Old Ball Coach since then?
His approach to the game. Spurrier arrived at South Carolina promising great things, and he has delivered (for a program that has wallowed in mediocrity since its inception, at least). It just took him far longer than he had planned. He boasted of having his best team yet and one capable of challenging for the SEC championship in 2007, only to see a 6-1 start fizzle into five straight losses and no bowl game.
Since then, Spurrier has continued to learn that he can’t depend on snapping up every five-star recruit due to his name like he did at Florida, because there simply aren’t that many in South Carolina and much more in-depth recruiting profiles are needed. He could be stubborn when he had the horses he did at Florida, but that’s not the case here.
Spurrier has quit screaming so much and started coaching more; he’s surrounded himself with similar coaches as assistants, who can go get the best players in South Carolina; and he has not yielded to the Gamecocks’ sorry football history by continuing to get better. He feels this is his best team, in talent and attitude, and it is. That he doesn’t have to brag about it shows how far he’s come.
Tell us a bit about Connor Shaw settling into the quarterback spot after Stephen Garcia was removed from the team.
Shaw was given the start in the season-opener but was quickly forgotten after a 17-0 deficit. Then Garcia came riding in to save the day. Shaw understood that he hadn’t played that well, but then when Garcia was playing lousy from then on, Shaw wasn’t even an option. That was really the first time that Shaw was especially frustrated, and his attitude slightly dropped, but then Garcia was awful against Auburn and Shaw was given the start against Kentucky.
Since then, Shaw has improved game-by-game, and there’s no question that it helped him to know he was the guy no matter what when Garcia finally ran out of chances. From not being trusted to pass to becoming a very capable thrower, Shaw mixes the run and the pass well and is starting to become a baiting quarterback – just when a team thinks he’s going to option run, he drops back and heaves a 50-yard touchdown strike, such as he did to Bruce Ellington against Clemson.
How much is the loss of running back Marcus Lattimore going to affect SC's game plan?
No question that it was a tremendous blow, but the injury happened in USC’s seventh game. While some fretted that the season was over, since Shaw had not yet become a capable passer, the Gamecocks believed they could rise. Brandon Wilds came off the bench to collect three 100-yard games, and when he sprained his ankle early against Clemson, career backup Kenny Miles entered and rushed for 71 yards.
Miles will start against Nebraska, with Wilds behind him, and Shaw can run as well. Lattimore’s talents are missed, but put it this way; not having him to hand off to opened more possibilities of how to run the ball, and all have worked thus far.
There's been talk of Alshon Jeffery not being 100 percent. Have you heard anything to this effect and how do you see the match up between he and Alfonzo Dennard?
Jeffery broke his left hand in the first half against Clemson, but returned after halftime and caught a touchdown with it. He has been lightly practicing as the hand has healed (he had surgery to repair a broken bone on the top of his hand) and reported to practice on Thursday with no extra bandage or wrap under his glove.
He’ll be fine, and he’ll be able to catch, but the question is as it has been throughout the season – can the Gamecocks get the ball to him? Having Dennard cover him won’t be ideal for Shaw to even attempt to do the best option with Jeffery – throw it high and let him go get it.
How do you think SC tries to nullify Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David?
Can a team nullify a player with 122 tackles? David is simply all over the field. The best option seems to be running sweeps with Shaw and perhaps speed receivers like Damiere Byrd and Ace Sanders away from David’s weak side position, or else perhaps break out the Emory and Henry formation used earlier this year and force him to adjust before the snap.
USC’s fullback blocking is suspect, and to try to send someone like Dalton Wilson in there to put a body on David probably wouldn’t work. Shaw has shown great improvement in drawing the blitz into him, ducking under one and throwing, so perhaps that will be an option.
Has there been a consistent Achilles' Heel for South Carolina this season? I.E., When "X" happens, the Gamecocks unravel?
The team hasn’t really unraveled due to it, but the kick return units have been disastrous all year (and really for several years). That’s covering and returning. The Gamecocks simply can’t get a long return on kickoffs or punts, and their coverage on opposing returners hasn’t been any prize, either. They haven’t lost a game strictly due to it, but it’s agonizing to the offensive staff when the Gamecocks have to start every possession inside their own 20.
Which team has the most to gain and which has the most to lose?
I think South Carolina, on both counts. Win this one and South Carolina completes the greatest season in program history and sets up for next year. Lose this one, and it’s the same as the past few years. Sure, it was great to beat Clemson (a huge accomplishment in the state), but losing the bowl game leaves a bad taste throughout the offseason.
This year, with two assistant coaches already leaving, whispers of more potentially being on the list for other positions at other schools and an NCAA hearing in February, a bowl loss would bring back the old phrase – Same Ol’ USC.
What do you see the keys to victory being for both Nebraska and South Carolina?
Nebraska – Stop the run and force Shaw to win with his arm. Stick Dennard on Jeffery and make Shaw win by throwing to his other receivers. Have Martinez throw short passes to get the Gamecocks’ defense drawn in, then bomb over them for an early touchdown and grind out the game with the run.
South Carolina – Get a push right away with the offensive line, as it did against Clemson. Knock Nebraska back on its heels and get Miles, Wilds and Shaw running free. Don’t force the ball to Jeffery, but use the other receivers who have perhaps been unaccounted for – Nick Jones, D.L. Moore, Sanders, Ellington, Byrd.
On defense, have Ingram, Gilmore, Taylor, Clowney et al. bum-rush Martinez from the start and put him on his back. If the Gamecocks can get him feeling pressure right away, get ahead on the scoreboard and force him to win with his arm, they can get their secondary and its big-play potential involved.
David Cloninger is a full-time staff writer for GamecockCentral. He covers Gamecock football, men’s basketball, baseball and recruiting.
Follow David on Twitter: @DCAtGCKCentral
Follow Erin on Twitter: @helloerinmarie
Follow Husker Locker on Twitter: @huskerlocker
Like us on Facebook: Official Husker Locker Page

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