It may not be New Year’s Day, but a full day of bowl games on January 2 is still enough to make a college football fan happy.
As you settle in with your Rex Burkhead jersey and your Big Red coffee mug to watch Nebraska take on South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl, here are three things to watch for that will make Nebraska fans happy, and three that will make them sad.
South Carolina has the fourth-rated defense in the country. If Nebraska is going to be successful against that unit, NU will need to do well on first and second down. Nebraska’s offense—even more than most—will struggle in third-and-long situations.
So, for NU to maintain rhythm and to stay on the field, Nebraska must avoid down-and-distance plays which set Taylor Martinez and the NU offense up for failure.
Nebraska’s defensive seniors—notably Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard—will be playing their last game for NU.
While it is tempting to look at a bowl game as a means to glimpse the future of a program, the hard truth is that Dennard and (particularly) David have carried Nebraska’s defense throughout 2011. For Nebraska to beat the Gamecocks, NU will likely need a superlative effort from one or both of their departing superstars.
For most of the season, Nebraska has had the better of its opponents in special teams. From Brett Maher doing his best Alex Henery impersonation, to freshman Ameer Abdullah emerging as a return threat—Nebraska has been able to gain an advantage from its special teams.
But towards the end of the season, the edge on that advantage seemed to dull for Nebraska. If NU can rediscover its special teams form, it could prove vital in an otherwise-close game.
Nebraska has shown a propensity to look for runs on the edges, particularly at the start of games.
If NU is to have success on the edge or running an option, Nebraska’s offensive line will need to keep South Carolina’s ridiculously talented front four out of NU’s backfield. If the Gamecocks are able to get penetration (sorry, that’s about as clean as I could write that sentence), then Nebraska will struggle mightily to move the ball.
Nebraska’s success on offense has come when it has been able to get into a rhythm and move the ball. Nebraska’s two ugly losses have been largely driven by turnovers—particularly interceptions.
Taylor Martinez has done very well in limiting the damage he would inflict with bonehead decisions in his freshman year. But against South Carolina’s defense, Nebraska must be particularly stingy with the ball if it wants a shot to notch a win against an SEC opponent.
One of the clichés in looking at bowls is to say that the team with the best motivation is more likely to win. Of course, after watching Nebraska mail in its performance against Washington last year in the Holiday Bowl, it’s hard to argue with the truth of that cliché.
Both teams appear to have better focus this time around, but South Carolina may have a little extra push. The Gamecocks are trying to win 11 games for the first time—ever. As in, since the program started in 1892.
If Steve Spurrier is able to sell his charges on what a big deal that would be, the Gamecocks could enjoy that elusive motivational edge that could be critical in a close game like this.
The Capital One Bowl sets up to be one of the more competitive matchups in the bowl season, and it is likely that the game will come down to the fourth quarter.
However, South Carolina’s quarterback—Connor Shaw—has enough mobility to give Nebraska’s defense problems, and its defense should be stout enough to hold Nebraska in check for good parts of the game.While NU puts up a much better showing than last year, look for the Gamecocks to make history and deny Nebraska another 10-win season.
Fearless Forecast: South Carolina 17, Nebraska 13
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