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December 31, 2013

All-Out Blitz: South Carolina





Welcome to BadgerBlitz.com's final "All-Out Blitz" of the season, where you'll find everything that you need to know about the Badgers' next opponent. The Badgers (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) are looking to rebound after a disappointing loss to Penn State in their regular season finale, but they've drawn a tough matchup in the Capital One Bowl.

They'll take on No. 9 South Carolina in Orlando on Wednesday at 12 p.m., with the game set to air on ESPN. In the meantime, here's what you need to know about the Gamecocks:

Head coach: Steve Spurrier (9th season @ South Carolina), 218-79-2 (128-43 SEC)
South Carolina All-Time Record: 566-544-44 (.510)
2013 Record: 10-2 (6-2 SEC)
Ranking: 9 (BCS), 8 (AP), 8 (Coaches Poll)
All-Time record against Wisconsin: 1st meeting

Season outlook

South Carolina has been in the thick of things in the SEC East since 2010, when they won the division title with a 9-3 record. The Gamecocks have won at least 10 games in each of the three seasons since, and could make it 11 wins in three straight seasons if they beat the Badgers on Wednesday. That's an impressive feat for South Carolina, who were an SEC doormat before hiring Spurrier. They had designs on another division title this season, but a head-scratching loss to Tennessee kept them out of the SEC title game.

This year

Offensively South Carolina does most of their damage through the air. Quarterback Connor Shaw
Has had a stellar season for the Gamecocks, throwing for 2,135 yards and 21 touchdowns to just one interception. Shaw is actually completing passes at a career-low 61 percent, but that's after completing 69.7, 65.4, and 67.5 percent of his passes over the last three years. All the same, the Gamecocks will happily take a 61 percent mark as long as Shaw stays so efficient and stays smart with the football.

The Gamecocks have four major wide receivers who catch most of Shaw's passes, but they'll be without junior wide receiver Damiere Byrd for the bowl game. Byrd is second on the team with 33 catches this season, and had 232 more receiving yards than the next highest receiver. That's a big loss for the Gamecocks, so they'll probably count on Bruce Ellington to shoulder a little more of the load. Ellington leads the team with 43 receptions, 635 yards and six touchdowns, but it'll be interesting to see how he matches up against Wisconsin's secondary.

Ellington is listed at just 5-foot-9, which diminishes the size advantage other receivers have had against Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton. The Gamecocks also try to get Shaq Roland, Nick Jones, running back Mike Davis and tight end Rory Andersen involved through the air. Those four players have combined for 92 catches, 1,176 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.

Davis is South Carolina's workhorse at running back. The 5-foot-9 sophomore running back has 1,134 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on 194 attempts this season. That works out to about 5.85 yards per carry, and the Gamecocks will need him to have a good game against a tough Wisconsin front seven if they want to run their offense at its highest level.

On defense the Gamecocks boast one of the top players in college football: Jadeveon Clowney is a 6-foot-6 athletic monster at defensive end, and is a sure-fire first round pick when he declares for the NFL draft after this game. You might remember this play of his from South Carolina's bowl game last year after ESPN played it on a continuous loop from about the end of bowl season until the start of the next college football season.

Clowney "underachieved" this season, finishing the regular season with just 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks after tallying 23.5 TFLs and 13 sacks as a sophomore. Part of that is because teams schemed away from Clowney's side of the field, but there are people out there who are questioning his motor with a big NFL payday up next. Personally, I don't think it matters much: he's one of the most athletically gifted players in college football, and the Badgers would do well to try and limit his impact on the game.

Matchup to watch: Wisconsin's cornerbacks vs. South Carolina's wide receivers

I, like you, definitely remember how Arizona State and Penn State both shredded Wisconsin's secondary at times this season. When you combine that history with South Carolina's effective passing game, I think the winner of this individual matchup will end up winning the game. The Badgers get an extra boost in that their best cornerback, Sojourn Shelton will get to match up against a wide receiver that's a little closer to his own stature.

The pick: Wisconsin 27 South Carolina 24

This should be one of the better bowl games this season. Despite being ten spots apart in the rankings Wisconsin and South Carolina are actually pretty evenly matched as far as strengths and weaknesses go. Defensively the Gamecocks will have to be able to stop the run to beat the Badgers, but the Gamecocks give up an average of 4.05 yards per rush. The Gamecocks still have the advantage through the air, but in the end I think Wisconsin's ground game will keep them afloat and give them their first bowl win since the 2009 season.

The point after:

Wisconsin's three-straight Big Ten titles are definitely impressive, but Spurrier's Florida Gators won five SEC titles in six years between 1991 and 1996. That's dominance for you.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.


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