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 Bo Pelini and the Huskers aim for a third-straight 10-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 four things Nebraska must do to stay in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina.
1. Keep the Pressure on Connor Shaw
South Carolina’s signal-caller has been solid to this point, completing 5 of 8 passes for 161 yards and running for 17 yards and a touchdown.
But Nebraska’s front seven has been able to put pressure on Shaw, sacking him twice on South Carolina’s first drive.
Especially with South Carolina’s midseason loss of super-sophomore tailback Marcus Lattimore, the Cocks are hugely dependent on Shaw’s efficiency under center. And while Shaw has shown glimpses of getting on track both through the air and on the ground, the more the Huskers can make him uncomfortable, the more likely they are to shut down the South Carolina offense.
2. Stick Like Glue to the South Carolina Wideouts
South Carolina may have the highly touted defense, but Nebraska’s defensive secondary was dominant...at least until two late Shaw bombs to Alshon Jeffery, the latter a 51-yard Hail Mary for a touchdown on the final play of 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.
Alfonzo Dennard was mostly incredible against Jeffery, but he’ll need to keep close tabs on him in the second half.
3. Feed Rex Burkhead
The 5’11”, 210-pound running back is a huge part of the Nebraska offense, having run for 1,268 yards and 15 touchdowns—and having caught 16 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns—entering today’s bowl game.
Burkhead has rushed for 100 yards or more in seven of Nebraska’s 12 games this season. The Huskers are 7-0 in those games. That means that in the five games in which Burkhead has been held under 100 yards, the Huskers are 2-3.
If Taylor Martinez can utilize the junior back both on the ground and via screens, the Huskers should be able to mix things up, gobble up yards and hang on to the ball for long periods of time. And over the course of the season, that combination has led to lots of wins for Nebraska.
4. Possess the Ball
South Carolina has absolutely dominated the time of possession through the first half, yet the game is still close through two quarters.
This obviously goes back to Nebraska being able to move the ball on offense, particularly on the ground, but Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks offense can't score when it's sitting on the sidelines (though the defense obviously can score, thanks to a first-quarter block of an extra point and a stunning two-point-conversion return). And the more they can keep them there, the more likely the Huskers are to hang with South Carolina on the scoreboard.