From The Sports Network
By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
Making just their fourth bowl appearance ever, the Connecticut Huskies will take on the South Carolina Gamecocks this Saturday afternoon in the PapaJohns.com bowl in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Gamecocks stormed out of the gates this season with five wins in their first six games, including four in a row. However, the team eventually hit the tough part of its SEC schedule and suffered losses in four of its next five matchups, before closing out the regular season with a 34-17 victory over Clemson. Two of those setbacks were hard fought losses to SEC powerhouses Alabama (20-6) and Florida (24-14). This will be the second straight bowl game for South Carolina and the 15th overall in school history. Unfortunately the Gamecocks have not enjoyed much success, posting a mere 4-10 mark in those contests.
The Huskies are not as seasoned when its comes to playing in the postseason, participating in just three bowls prior to this year's contest. UConn is however, 2-1 in those games, and that includes a 38-20 victory over Buffalo in last year's International Bowl. This year the Huskies had to overcome tragedy along with a grueling Big East schedule. The Huskies began the season with four wins in their first six games, and that includes a 38-25 victory over Louisville on October 17th. However, after that win the Huskies endured a tremendous loss when cornerback Jasper Howard was killed on campus. UConn could not overcome the loss of one of their own initially and stumbled through three straight losses. Fortunately UConn was able to right the ship, winning its last three contests, including a thrilling, 33-30 overtime decision at Notre Dame.
This will be the first-ever meeting between South Carolina and Connecticut on the gridiron.
Steve Spurrier coached some prolific offensive attacks when he was at Florida but at South Carolina coach Spurrier's team has rarely been considered a juggernaut with the football. That remains true for this year's squad., as South Carolina averaged just 21.8 ppg and did not do much on the ground or through the air. The Gamecocks are only churning out 125.0 ypg on the ground on 3.7 yards per attempt. Leading the ground attack is Kenny Miles, but he has rushed for just 602 yards and one score, while Brian Maddox has contributed 305 yards and a team-best five rushing touchdowns. South Carolina has enjoyed a little more success with its passing attack, but still the Gamecocks are not a threat to beat a team through the air. Stephen Garcia has led the team under center, completing 56.6 percent of his throws, with 2,733 yards and 17 scores against nine interceptions. Garcia does not have a go-to receiver at his disposal, as Alshon Jeffery has been the top option for Garcia, but he has hauled in just 43 receptions for 735 yards and six touchdowns.
The reason South Carolina was so competitive this season is mainly due to the play of the defense, which held the opposition to just 20.4 ppg. The Gamecocks allowed just 137.0 ypg on the ground on a mere 3.8 yards per carry, and against the pass the team was even better, limiting opponents to just 167.7 ypg through the air. The Gamecocks only collected 16 takeaways during the regular season, but the team did put adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, racking up 27 sacks on the season. The defense also stepped up when it mattered most, as the team held opponents to just 37 percent on third down chances, and allowed just 19 touchdowns in 36 red zone chances for opposing teams. Eric Norwood and Cliff Matthews collected seven sacks apiece during the regular season, while Shaq Wilson led the squad with 78 tackles.
The Huskies rumble into this contest averaging a stout 32.1 ppg, and the success is largely due to the team's performance on the ground, as UConn is churning out 172.8 ypg. Out of the 44 touchdowns scored by this unit, 29 have come via the run. Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon formed a dangerous duo for the Huskies, as Todman amassed 1,152 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Dixon rumbled for 967 yards and 13 scores. The ground game overshadowed the team's lack of success through the air, as UConn struggled to find consistency with its passing attack. Zach Frazer played in seven games this season and was nothing more than mediocre, completing just 54.3 percent of his throws for 1,354 yards. Frazer threw nine touchdowns on the season, but also tossed nine interceptions. Marcus Easley was clearly the top target on the roster, finishing with 44 receptions, for 853 yards and eight TDs.
The play of the offense lightened the load for UConn's defense that was inconsistent at times this year. The Huskies are allowing 25.0 ppg, and while that is not terrible, it is nothing to write home about either. The defense is surrendering 137.6 ypg on the ground, but is holding teams to just 3.8 yards per tote. What really hurt this unit was its inability to stop the pass, as opponents torched UConn for 244.8 ypg through the air and also threw 17 touchdowns against this secondary. Fortunately this defense was able to rely on its big play ability, as the team collected 23 turnovers, while also putting solid pressure on the quarterback, with 30 sacks. Lawrence Wilson was one of the top performers for this defense throughout the season, and comes into this game with 136 tackles and 10 TFLs. However, he was not the lone bright spot, as Lindsey Witten also had a solid campaign, grabbing 13 TFLs and 11.5 sacks, both of which were team-highs.