For the first of many PapaJohns.com Bowl previews, I start with three keys I’ll be watching for when I take my seat in Legion Field nine days from now.
Special Teams Shenanigans
For those who have followed the Gamecocks this year, you have seen South Carolina struggle with kickoff coverage. In fact, the Cocks have allowed three touchdowns on kickoffs.
Couple that with the fact that UConn has returned three kicks for touchdowns—all by different players, no less—and South Carolina could find itself in some serious trouble. That said, the Head Ball Coach says he has no plans to kick away from the Huskies’ return men.
On the flip side, Gamecock fans have to be excited about Carolina’s kick return man, Bryce Sherman, who has been oh-so-close on breaking two returns this year. Chris Culliver has been the main returner for Steve Spurrier’s team this year, but word is that Sherman is going to get his chances come Jan. 2.
The Gamecocks have been in a serious drought, dating all the way back to 2003, when it comes to special teams touchdowns, but Sherman gives them hope.
So hold your breath when the scrawny-looking white guys line it up from their own 30.
Lots of Emotion
No surprise here for UConn. The majority of their season has been dedicated to slain teammate Jasper Howard. With a month off, however, you have to wonder if the Huskies can count on the emotional momentum they used in the latter portion of their season.
UConn’s mind frame might very well be dictated by how the opening minutes go. If they come out swinging and hit a big play, it will be easy to tap into the success they enjoyed to end their season. A sluggish start, however, could be emotionally draining, especially since the players won’t be able to count on too much support from their fans, who have not committed to many tickets.
For the Gamecocks, they have been stung by late season slides, and last year’s poor showing against Iowa is still a sore spot for the players. Gamecock fans are ready for a bowl win as well—they have already surpassed their ticket allotment and are on the way to making Legion Field decidedly garnet and black.
Senior leaders Eric Norwood and Moe Brown want to end their careers on a high note, and newcomers such as Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore want to write a new chapter into the history books of South Carolina football.
A Close Game
Much has been made of UConn’s close losses this year, and rightfully so, as they didn’t lose a game by more than four points all season. They’ve also managed to win a handful of squeakers, including their regular season comeback win over USF.
South Carolina has also had its share of close games, both on the winning and losing end.
Since neither team has shown the balance or fireworks to blow out a quality team, chances are this will be a doozy late in the final quarter.