Capital One Bowl breakdown: No. 8 South Carolina vs. No. 19 Wisconsin
Both teams feature strong running games and powerful defensive playmakers, notably Badger linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and Gamecock defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Both are well coached and have something to prove with Wisconsin looking to reach 10 wins and South Carolina, a team that was one Missouri loss away from playing in the SEC Championship Game, trying to win 11 games in three consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.
But Steve Spurrier has something that Gary Andersen does not: a quarterback named Connor Shaw who can throw, run, make good decisions and win big games in the clutch. With big-play receivers like Bruce Ellington and a running back like Mike Davis, who can make catches and pick up plenty of extra yards, South Carolina should be able to score against the Wisconsin secondary.
Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave has to play the game of his career for the Badgers to win. A run-centered team, Stave averages 201 passing yards per game. His 20 touchdowns are not bad, but he also averaged one interception per game. Staveâs most prolific game was the last one — 339 yards in the air in a losing effort to Penn State on Nov. 30, but also threw three picks.
It wonât help that he has a healthy Clowney, who is projected to be the top defensive player off the board in the NFL Draft, rushing from his blindside.
The Badgers have a great running game, but they will need to loosen up the Gamecocks defense to win. That means Stave will need a big game with very few mistakes.
142.2: Wisconsinâs rushing tandem of Melvin Gordon and James White has combined for 2,803 yards this season with Gordon averaging 8.1 yards per touch and White averaging 6.4. The Badgers ranked second in the Big Ten in rushing with 283 yards per game on the ground.
But South Carolina has the No. 2 rush defense in the SEC giving up only 142.2 yards and 20 points per game, in large part because of Clowney and Kelcy Quarles, who had 13.5 tackles for loss. This will be a matchup of great runners and great rushing defenders â a statistical toss-up.
This will be one of the more physical and evenly-matched non-BCS Bowl games, one that could go down to the wire or even down to the last play as was the case in South Carolinaâs win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl a year ago.
The difference will be Shaw and the South Carolina passing game. The senior has thrown for 2,135 yards and 21 touchdowns and has completed 61 percent of his passes. But the most impressive stat is his ability to protect the ball and make good decisions. He threw only one interception in the regular season, and it came during the Gamecocks 23-21 loss to Tennessee. In a game that is likely to hinge on one or two big plays, expect Shaw to be the difference maker.