Nebraska-South Carolina Preview

South Carolina is one victory away from the winningest season in

its history. To achieve that, the Gamecocks will need to overcome

one of college football’s most storied programs – and one neither

they nor their coach have defeated.

Tenth-ranked South Carolina takes a stifling defense and an

up-and-coming quarterback into Orlando on Monday to face No. 21

Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.

Steve Spurrier’s teams have never posted a losing record since

he became coach at South Carolina in 2005, and he has taken the

program to new heights in his seventh year. The Gamecocks (10-2)

have matched the 1984 team for the most wins in the 118-year

history of the program, finished SEC play with a school-best 6-2

record and defeated all five of their East Division rivals.

To break the 1984 team’s mark, South Carolina will have to

overcome its recent history in postseason play. After defeating

Houston in the 2006 Liberty Bowl and finishing out of the bowl

picture the following year, the Gamecocks have dropped three

straight bowls. They lost 26-17 to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A

Bowl last season.

“Since I’ve been here, we haven’t won a bowl game and so we’re

trying to go out and change that, got out and get that 11th win and

make history,” defensive end Melvin Ingram said.

The Gamecocks have never beaten the Cornhuskers (9-3), losing

all three meetings – the most recent coming in a home-and-home

series in 1986 and ’87. Neither has Spurrier, whose No. 2 Florida

team fell to Nebraska 62-24 in a 1996 Fiesta Bowl that decided the

national championship.

Spurrier would guide the Gators to a national title of their own

the following year – the pinnacle of his tenure in Gainesville that

was best known for his high-flying “Fun-n-Gun” offense. His current

team is winning in a much different fashion, averaging nearly 200

rushing yards per game and sporting a defense that ranks fourth

nationally at 268.9 yards per game and second against the pass at

133.0.

“There’s nothing wrong with the way we’re playing, if you can

run the ball decently, you got a chance to score some points and

you got a defense like we got,” Spurrier said.

The heart of that defense is Ingram, who led South Carolina with

8 1/2 sacks, had two interceptions despite playing on the line,

rumbled 68 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt against Georgia in

September, and earned first-team All-American honors.

“We’re going to work hard every play,” Ingram said.

While Ingram figures to be playing on Sundays next fall,

quarterback Connor Shaw may to be in Columbia a while longer. The

sophomore claimed the starting job in October and played his best

down the stretch, completing 30 of 38 passes over his last two

games. He went 14 for 20 with three touchdown passes, 107 rushing

yards and a TD run in a 34-13 win over archrival Clemson to

conclude the regular season.

“I feel like my confidence is boosting game by game the more I

play,” Shaw said. “I have a better feel for the game and am

starting to see the bigger picture.”

Nebraska may not be entering this matchup with sky-high

confidence after losing two of its last four games, but the

Cornhuskers did manage a successful inaugural season in the Big Ten

– highlighted by a 24-3 victory over then-No. 9 Michigan State in

October – and have a shot for their third straight 10-win

campaign.

“It’s the ultimate goal right now,” offensive lineman Jeremiah

Sirles said. “If we’re not competing for the championship, we want

to go out and have as many wins as possible. We have a chance at 30

wins in three seasons, and that’s pretty special.”

Nebraska also has a chance to erase its unpleasant bowl memories

from last year, when – still smarting over a loss in the Big 12

title game – it got sent to the Holiday Bowl for a second straight

year and gave a lackluster performance in a 19-7 defeat to

Washington.

“Of course there’s going to be a different attitude,”

first-team All-American senior linebacker Lavonte David said. “Last

year we played in the same bowl game two years in a row and played

the same team we played already. This year we get a better

opportunity, a better bowl game, a much tougher team, an SEC team.

The guys are already pumped up.”

Like South Carolina, Nebraska’s offense is powered by the ground

game. The Huskers ranked 13th in the nation this season with 223.9

rushing yards per game, with running back Rex Burkhead and

quarterback Taylor Martinez combining to rush for 200 or more five

times.

Burkhead, a junior, ran for career highs of 1,268 yards and 15

touchdowns. He was a workhorse in the Nov. 25 regular-season

finale, amassing 160 yards and a score on 38 carries to lead

Nebraska over Iowa 20-7.

Martinez ran for nine TDs – all in the season’s first six games.

However, the sophomore threw the ball reliably down the stretch,

completing 57.4 percent of his passes with four TDs and no

interceptions in four November contests.

“I appreciate the effort those guys gave out there,” coach Bo

Pelini said. “I think our resolve was something special. I loved

the approach our football team has. They had a never-say-die

attitude.”

This is the first time Nebraska has faced an opponent from the

SEC since a 17-14 loss to Auburn in the Cotton Bowl following the

2006 season.