January 2, 2010

PapaJohns.com Bowl: South Carolina vs. Connecticut

MORE: Bowl schedule/results

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Connecticut rush offense vs. South Carolina rush defense: Pounding the rock always is the Huskies' bread-and butter under Randy Edsall. RB Jordan Todman has run for 1,152 yards and 14 TDs, while Andre Dixon has gained 967 and has 13 scores. But yards could be difficult to come by against a fast and athletic South Carolina defense that is paced by Norwood.
Edge: Even

PAPAJOHNS.COM BOWL

Connecticut (7-5)
vs. South Carolina (7-5)

WHEN: 2 p.m., Saturday
WHERE: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
TV: ESPN (Dave Neal will do play-by-play, with Andre Ware as the analyst).
THE LINE: South Carolina by 5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: UConn 2-5, South Carolina 3-5.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: UConn 27th, South Carolina T-23rd.
BCS RANKINGS: Both are unranked.
OFFICIALS: A crew from the ACC.
COACHES: UConn- Randy Edsall (2-1 in bowls); South Carolina- Steve Spurrier (7-8 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: UConn has been one of the nation's most inspirational teams, having overcome the death of CB Jasper Howard to rally to a bowl game. The Huskies lost their five games by an aggregate 15 points, and they won their last three contests to earn a bowl bid. Included in that stretch was a 33-30 double-overtime win at Notre Dame that might have been the biggest victory in school history.
KEY STATS: UConn's underrated offense averages 32.1 points and ranks 21st in the nation in scoring offense. South Carolina is 96th in scoring offense at 21.8 points per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: South Carolina LB Eric Norwood is the school's career leader in sacks (29) and tackles for loss (54.5). He's tied for third in the SEC with seven sacks and ranks eighth in tackles for loss with 11.5. Norwood is a big play waiting to happen. He paces the squad with two picks, has recovered a fumble, forced a fumble, leads the Gamecocks with 11 quarterback hurries and has three blocked kicks.
UConn pass offense vs. South Carolina pass defense: Passing never is pretty for UConn, but first-year coordinator Joe Moorhead has made the aerial game more efficient. QB Zach Frazer has enjoyed his moments after overcoming a right knee injury suffered in September against North Carolina. But he has hit just 54.3 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. If the Huskies want to pass, someone must block Norwood. Frazer also needs to avoid South Carolina FS Chris Culliver.
Edge: South Carolina

South Carolina rush offense vs. UConn rush defense: The Gamecocks ran for an SEC-low 1,860 yards. Diminutive RB Kenny Miles is South Carolina's top ground threat. UConn looks to LB Lawrence Wilson to stuff the run. He paces the Big East and ranks fourth in the nation in tackles (11.2 pg). Wilson has able sidekicks in Scott Lutrus and Greg Lloyd.
Edge: UConn

South Carolina pass offense vs. UConn pass defense: QB Stephen Garcia has made strides this season in what has been a breakout campaign for the often-maligned passer. When the Gamecocks want to pass, they look to freshman Alshon Jeffery, who emerged as the squad's go-to target at midseason and paces the team with 43 catches for 735 yards and six scores. UConn DE Lindsey Witten brings the heat off the edge with a Big East-best 11.5 sacks. Garcia needs to avoid CB Robert McClain, who is a ballhawk.
Edge: Even

UConn special teams vs. South Carolina special teams: Field goals have been an adventure for UConn, as Dave Teggart has hit just 12 of his 21 attempts. Desi Cullen is the best punter in school history. The return game is strong. McClain is the top punt returner in the Big East, while Todman is a threat on kickoff returns. For the first time in school annals, UConn returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in a season. South Carolina has one of the SEC's better kickers in Spencer Lanning, who has nailed 17-of-20 field goals. But the Gamecocks' return game is mediocre.
Edge: UConn

UConn coaching staff vs. South Carolina coaching staff: Randy Edsall, who has UConn in its third consecutive bowl, is one of the nation's most underrated coaches - and he may be coming off the most impressive coaching job of his 11-year tenure. Moorhead has helped improve an often-moribund passing attack. Like Edsall, Steve Spurrier remains one of the nation's better coaches, but he still hasn't made the Gamecocks into an offensive force. Spurrier has a top defensive staff led by coordinator Ellis Johnson.
Edge: Even

X-factor: Which team wants to be here more? That likely will determine who wins. If the hot team has the edge, UConn may prevail. The Huskies finished the season with three consecutive victories. Meanwhile, South Carolina lost four of its final six regular-season games.

UConn will win if: The Huskies must be able to run effectively. Todman and Dixon are one of the most underrated duos in the nation. It's vital both find room to run because UConn has at times struggled to pass with consistency.

South Carolina will win if: Garcia's play is huge. The Gamecocks' fortunes often ebb and flow with their quarterback, who has passed for 2,733 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine picks. If he is hitting passes, the soft Gamecocks ground game may have some pop.

EXPERT PICKS
Olin Buchanan: South Carolina 34, UConn 31
Tom Dienhart: UConn 21, South Carolina 20
David Fox: UConn 21, South Carolina 14
Mike Huguenin: UConn 23, South Carolina 20
Steve Megargee: South Carolina 17, UConn 10

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.




 

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