5 Keys to a Nebraska Victory Against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl
It's time for the ending moment of the 2011 and inaugural Big Ten season for the Cornhuskers.
It was an interesting season for Nebraska, reaching a high point of being ranked No. 8 in the nation and breaking the top ten for five weeks, to a low point of being ranked No. 22 after a stunning upset by Northwestern and a Michigan debacle where Nebraska threw away the game on turnovers.
Now the Big Red sits at No. 21 in the nation facing off against the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks.
Nebraska has played in the various incarnations of the Capital One Bowl (The Citrus Bowl) only once before, falling to the national champions the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech.
However, a Nebraska team has won the bowl game, the now defunct (thanks to Trev Alberts) Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks who beat Eastern Kentucky in 1955.
So what are the five keys for Nebraska to join its northern brethren in winning the Capital One Bowl?
1. Dominate the Trenches
South Carolina's biggest strength against Nebraska is their defensive line, with some really talented players like the number one recruit last year Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney may not play, as he had his likeness on a flier for a Christmas party and South Carolina said they would investigate. I seriously doubt South Carolina will do anything and if they do, it will be for next season for a cupcake game, not one where they can get a school-record 11 wins.
Anyway, the South Carolina defensive line has more speed than the big guys the Big Ten uses, so that will provide a challenge to the Nebraska offensive line. They can be somewhat similar to the Big 12 defensive lines that Nebraska faced last year.
Nebraska cannot allow the Gamecocks to dominate them up front when the Huskers have the ball. South Carolina has a good defense, but they are best at pass defense, not run defense.
If Nebraska can dominate the trenches, they can move the ball effectively against the weaker side of South Caorlina's defense.
2. Shut Down Connor Shaw
Connor Shaw is South Carolina's offense. When he isn't throwing, he is running the ball. Shut him down, and there goes the Gamecocks offense.
I know all about Alshon Jeffery, the Gamecocks star wide receiver. He is a big receiver at 6-4 and weighing 229 lbs. But Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has done an excellent job at shutting down star and big wide receivers, like B.J. Cunningham of Michigan State and Marvin McNutt of Iowa.
If South Carolina still had Marcus Lattimore, I would be worried, but they don't, as he suffered a knee injury early in the season. His backup and new starter Brandon Wilds is all right, but he can be inconsistent at times. He is a freshman and is prone to freshman mistakes.
So we are now back to Connor Shaw; Nebraska must do whatever it takes to stop Shaw from making plays. Former defensive coordinator Carl Pelini did not like blitzing or using a QB spy, maybe new defensive coordinator John Papuchis will learn from Carl's mistakes as mobile QBs shredded Nebraska this year.
If Nebraska can make Shaw uncomfortable and keep him from running, Nebraska's chances of winning will rise.
3. Run the Ball
As mentioned earlier, South Carolina has a good defense, but their rush defense is weaker than their pass defense. Luckily for Nebraska, the Huskers' strength lies in the running game.
Rex Burkhead is the star of the Nebraska offense, and they should ride him to victory. However, Burkhead cannot do it alone; we cannot honestly expect him to carry the ball more than 30 times a game. The trio of freshman running backs need to make plays and help the run game.
Taylor Martinez will most likely need to make some plays with his feet as well. This is something he hasn't done since the Ohio State game, that was the last time he went over 100 yards rushing or scored a rushing touchdown.
He has slowly shifted into a game manager and not a game breaker. I am not going to complain, as he hasn't thrown a pick since a tipped ball against Michigan State.
If Nebraska can run successfully, they can then try to test the South Carolina pass defense, though I would not recommend launching deep passes very often.
4. Use the Diamond Formation
Nebraska has an ace in the hole, a formation that some teams use rarely with Nebraska being one of them, but when they use it, they get success, like when they used it against Ohio State to score twice. That formation is the Diamond Formation.
A while ago I wrote an article on why Nebraska should use the Diamond formation, it can open up many facets of the offense like the deep ball, as the defense is distracted by the loaded backfield.
Most importantly, though, the Diamond Formation allows Nebraska to get the most out of their best position. Nebraska can have a combination of Rex Burkhead, Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Aaron Green on the field at the same time.
All of them have great speed and power and can get yards, but they also provide a distraction for the wide receivers like Kenny Bell and possibly Jamal Turner to get open.
Nebraska only seems to use the formation when it really needs it, however given that this is the end of the season, there is no reason to hold the cards close to the chest. Use the Diamond Formation.
5. Cut Down on the Turnovers
When Nebraska played Wisconsin in the their first-ever Big Ten game, they were actually winning and beating the Badgers on their home turf. Then Martinez threw three interceptions and the game turned ugly. Wisconsin won the game.
When Nebraska played Northwestern, they drove to the goal line and Burkhead fumbled the ball. Later, Quincy Enunwa picked up a big gain on a pass, but didn't secure the ball and fumbled. Northwestern would win the game.
When Nebraska played Michigan, Martinez fumbled on a sack, but the real killer was that Tim Marlowe and Kenny Bell each fumbled on a kickoff return, meaning the offense rarely saw the field that game. Michigan won the game.
Those games are Nebraska's only three losses on the season. What all of them have in common is the turnovers that killed the team, and in Wisconsin and Michigan, they seemed to break the spirit of the team.
Nebraska will need to hold on to the ball for dear life, as having multiple turnovers against South Carolina could turn the game into a Michigan/Wisconsin debacle.