Capital One Bowl Preview
Dec. 31, 2011
The Huskers enter the postseason ranked 21st in the Associated Press Poll and 20th in the USA Today Coaches poll. Nebraska's nine victories marked its fourth straight nine-win season under Pelini, and the Huskers are one of just eight programs with four straight nine-win seasons. A victory in the Capital One Bowl would give Nebraska three consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1999 to 2001. This will mark Nebraska's first matchup with the SEC in a bowl game since a 17-14 loss to Auburn in the 2007 Cotton Bowl.
South Carolina comes into the Capital One Bowl with a 10-2 record, including a 6-2 mark in the SEC, and is ranked 10th in the AP Poll and No. 9 by the coaches. The Gamecocks' only losses this season were by three points to defending national champion Auburn and on the road at Arkansas. South Carolina's 10-win season is just the second in Gamecock school history, joining a 10-2 campaign in 1984. The Capital One Bowl will be the 17th bowl appearance in South Carolina's history, and the Gamecocks have a 4-12 record in postseason play.
This will be the Huskers' fourth meeting all-time with South Carolina, and the first postseason meeting between the schools. Nebraska holds a 3-0 edge in the series, most recently winning a home-and-home series in 1986 and 1987.
Nebraska’s offense ranks third in the Big Ten and 13th nationally in rushing (223.9), fourth in the conference in scoring (30.5) and total yards (390.5), and 10th in passing (166.6). The Huskers’ running attack has been highlighted by one of the nation’s top one-two rushing tandems in sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez and junior I-back Rex Burkhead. The duo combined to rush for 175.4 yards per game and combined for at least 200 rushing yards five times. Burkhead and Martinez accounted for 78.3 percent of the NU rushing offense this season. Burkhead ranked third in the conference with 105.7 yards per game and found the end zone 15 times en route to 1,268 yards on the year. Martinez, who averaged nearly 70 yards on the ground each time out, also threw for 164.4 yards each Saturday, which ranked sixth in the conference. He completed 55.9 percent of his 272 passes for 1,973 yards, with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The South Carolina defense ranks second in the SEC in defending the pass (133.0), third in scoring (18.8) and against the rush (103.4), and fourth in total yards allowed (268.9). Many of those averages, however, also stand as some of the nation’s best. The Gamecocks rank second nationally in pass efficiency defense and pass defense, fourth in total defense and 13th in scoring defense. USC has held six of its opponents to 13 or fewer points and seven of its final eight opponents to 20 or fewer points. The Gamecocks’ defense is led by a pair of defensive ends in senior All-American Melvin Ingram and freshman Jadeveon Clowney, an All-SEC pick. Ingram has 44 tackles on the season and leads the team with 13.5 tackles-for-loss and 8.5 sacks. Clowney has impressed in his rookie season, totaling 32 stops, including 10.0 TFLs and 6.0 sacks. He also leads the team with five forced fumbles. Antonio Allen led the Gamecocks with 81 tackles on the year. He was the only player in the SEC to rank among the league's top-10 in tackles, interceptions (3), fumbles forced (4) and fumbles recovered (3).
South Carolina is third in the SEC in rushing (198.0), fourth in total yards (375.4), fifth in scoring (30.1), and seventh in passing (177.4). Those numbers remain impressive despite the fact that the Gamecocks lost both their starting quarterback and running back this year. Quarterback Connor Shaw made eight starts during the regular season, including each of the final seven games. He is completing 65.5 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,218 yards this season with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Shaw has also been a threat in the run game, boasting seven rushing scores and averaging 53.7 yards per game, the highest total of any active Gamecock. Brandon Wilds is USC’s top running back after starter Marcus Lattimore was lost for the season with an injury against Mississippi State. Lattimore ran for 10 touchdowns in his seven games and was the sec’s second-leading rusher at the time of his injury. In his absence, Wilds has started the last five games, running for 486 yards and averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The Gamecocks also boast a talented wideout in Alshon Jeffery. He leads the team with 45 catches, 614 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He is averaging nearly four catches per game and 51.2 yards per contest.
Nebraska’s defense is seventh in the conference in scoring (22.8), passing (189.1) and total yards allowed (350.7), as well as eighth against the run (161.6). The Huskers have long fielded one of the nation’s top defenses, but struggled this season after losing All-American defensive tackle Jared Crick to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle. Still, Nebraska boasted the nation’s 36th-best defense and saw the rise of senior linebacker Lavonte David, a Butkus Award finalist and the winner of conference’s top linebacker honors. David finished the regular season with a team-leading 122 tackles and had five games with double-figure tackle totals, including four in Big Ten play. He ranked third in the conference with 10.2 tackles per game. David also led the team with two interceptions, two fumbles caused, two fumble recoveries and 11 tackles for loss, while ranking second on the team with 3.5 sacks. Junior Will Compton (6.4) and Daimion Stafford (6.2) are also key contributors on the Huskers’ D.
In special teams, Nebraska’s Brett Maher is a perfect 42-of-42 on PATs and leads the conference with an 86.4 field-goal percentage, making 19-of-22 attempts with a long of 51 yards. Maher also paced the conference with a punting average of 45.0 yards per boot with a long of 69 yards. Freshman Ameer Abdullah is second in the Big Ten with a kick return average of 30.0 yards per try. Senior Jay Wooten handles USC’s kicking duties and is 7-of-10 on the season with a long of 49 yards. Wooten has also taken every kickoff for the Gamecocks this season, recording six touchbacks in 67 attempts. Senior punter Joey Scribner-Howard is averaging 38.9 yards per punt, as the Gamecocks rank 93rd nationally in net punting.