The No. 20 Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3) are facing off against the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2) in the Capital One Bowl in lovely Orlando, as coach Steve Spurrier and the Cocks aim for the school’s first-ever 11-win season.
Both teams have successful sophomore quarterbacks—in Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw—and they’ll obviously continue to be huge parts of this game. Similarly, with Nebraska’s potent offense and South Carolina’s filthy defense, there will be plenty of matchups worth following.
After two entertaining, hard-fought quarters, with the Gamecocks clinging to a 16-13 lead, here are five things South Carolina must do to stay in the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska.
1. Protect Connor Shaw
The patchwork South Carolina offensive line allowed two sacks of quarterback Connor Shaw on the first drive. He’s been under pressure each time he’s dropped back. Neither he nor running back Kenny Miles has had much room to run the ball, either.
To keep Shaw comfortable, the offensive line needs to do a better job against the mediocre Nebraska front seven. With more time to find open receivers and step into his throws, Shaw has the ability to do a much better job of picking apart the defense and moving the ball in the second half.
2. If You’re a Wide Receiver, Get Open!
South Carolina may have the highly touted defense, but Nebraska’s defensive secondary had been stellar, at least until Shaw completed two late bombs to Alshon Jeffery that changed the game completely. Shaw now has 161 yards at the half, but 78 of those came on a pass to Jeffrey midway through the second and another 51 were on a last-second Hail Mary TD pass to end the first half.
So aside from those two passes, Shaw had just 32 yards through the air in the first half.
Yes, South Carolina allowed two sacks on the first drive, but they were both more coverage sacks than due to stellar Nebraska pass-rushing.
If you’re Jeffery (45 catches, 614 yards, 7 touchdowns) or Ace Sanders (26 grabs for 338 yards and two scores), you need to run better routes and get open more regularly for your quarterback!
3. Get the Defense Rolling…But Avoid Stupid Mistakes!
South Carolina’s defense is filthy. They’re ranked 13th in the nation in points against. Defensive end Melvin Ingram earned first-team All-America honors after compiling 8.5 sacks and two interceptions, while Jadeveon Clowney was among the top freshman defenders in the nation. They’re capable of shutting down offenses and wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
But we’ve hardly heard Ingram’s or Clowney’s names to this point. One name we have heard is that of freshman defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, whose stupid personal-foul facemask during a punt kept a Nebraska drive going and led to a touchdown in the first quarter.
Similarly, a terrible S.C. pass interference call on third-and-long kept another Cornhuskers’ drive going into the second quarter.
The Gamecocks’ defense is incredibly potent. But they need to avoid silly penalties and other mistakes that keep the Nebraska offense on the field.
4. Stop Taylor Martinez on the Ground!
In the first quarter, lightning-quick Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez ran several options with junior tailback Rex Burkhead, but South Carolina covered them well.
That’s precisely what the Gamecocks’ defense must do to contain the dual-threat QB and his tricky pitch option.
Keep Martinez contained in the middle of the field, make sure there are linebackers or defensive backs wide to cover the option and they should be able to contain the Nebraska offense.
5. Make Martinez Throw the Ball
By keeping his running game contained, South Carolina would do well to force Martinez into obvious passing situations. Though he’s improving with his accuracy, Martinez is far from a traditional pocket passer. He can be deliberate and slow with his release, and he’s unlikely to dominate the Gamecocks through the air.
The more South Carolina can force the Huskers into passing situations, the more they’re likely to force mistakes and keep them off the scoreboard.
Sure, he threw a fluky 30-yard touchdown to Kenny Bell early in the first quarter, but Martinez’s success through the air isn’t likely to be sustainable.