The Capital One Bowl is almost here, which means that it's time for our final installment of Walking the Beat of the season. This time I've enlisted Chris Clark of GamecockCentral.com to answer a few of my questions about South Carolina. I've included his answers below, and you can follow Chris on Twitter at @GCChrisClark.
First of all what's your take on Clowney? It was obviously unrealistic to base a season's worth of expectations on one play, but how would you say Clowney has played this season? Are teams running away from him and not giving him a chance to make plays? Is his motor actually an issue or has that storyline been overblown?
Chris Clark: It would be a lie to say that Clowney had the season that some expected him to, but perhaps the bigger issue was the expectations that some did place on him. I would say, as a fari answer that it is a combination of everything you mentioned. Clowney's made huge plays during his career and been schemed around as a freshman and sophomore, but it seems like "The Hit" in USC's last bowl game made the expectations completely unrealistic. As a staff at GamecockCentral, we discussed how the media would likely pick Clowney apart if he didn't have a bunch of sacks and game-changing plays against UNC in the opener despite the Tarheels running an up-tempo style and completely scheming away from him. That didn't happen and in one of the most humid games I've ever attended in person, Clowney looked tired at times. Actually watching the game back, North Carolina ran away from Clowney and he still had an impact on the plays he was out there for on the field. A lot of players were tired during the game, including UNC quarterback Bry Renner who went down with cramps because of the humidity despite the fact that he did not run around nearly as much as other players in the game. Clowney's stature and the amount of attention he generated in the offseason meant that every move he meant would be scrutinized to the highest level.
Clowney has played very hard at times in the 2013 season, particularly when he's seemed motivated. Teams still schemed around him and ran away from him and he still made some big plays. On the flip side of that, some scouts that study the game believe his effort was not always at a max level one hundred percent of the time (that's something that could be said about a lot of defensive linemen). If there was one part perhaps most frustrating for Gamecock fans to watch, it would probably be that Clowney did not cash in on multiple opportunities for sacks during the season that would have made his stat line a lot more impressive.
Offensively, give me the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Gamecocks. What's this team like when things are clicking and what factors keep them from getting to top gear on offense?
CC: When USC is clicking on offense, a couple of things are happening. First, the team is running the ball. The Gamecocks had a horrible loss to Tennessee this season that essentially knocked USC out of contention for the SEC title game (given how the rest of the season played out, USC was then waiting for help in order to win the East and that help did not arrive). In that game, USC went away from the run despite tailback Mike Davis breaking off some impressive runs and passed too much. USC also had some turnovers including an uncharacteristic one by quarterback Connor Shaw. That leads me to the second thing that USC is doing when the offense is clicking, and that's taking care of the ball. USC has not turned the ball over on offense beginning with the Mississippi State game at home back on November 2. One of Shaw's best attributes is taking care of the ball and no doubt that will be important against Wisconsin.
Early in the season, USC's defense was struggling giving up big plays particularly in the fourth quarter and the team's young linebackers were showing their youth. As the season has gone on, some of those issues have been rectified and improved. I think one of the concerns defensively in this game is being able to stop Wisconsin's running attack as USC has had some less-than-stellar moments stopping the runs at time this year. The worst-case scenario is that the Gamecocks can't run the ball and have some costly turnovers on offense, combined with not being able to stop the Badgers. Best case is running the ball/taking care of the ball, controlling the clock, and being able to slow the Badger run game.
Defensively what should we expect to see out of South Carolina? Apart from Clowney, who are the big players to watch during the bowl game?
CC: I would expect South Carolina to do as much as possible schematically to protect against getting gashed by the run up front. That means that defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will need to possibly devote extra personnel to stopping the run which means that cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree become important when tasked with covering receivers one-on-one. As for some of the key players, Sharrod Golightly is a big one at spur. He's received some postseason accolades and had a good year despite being undersized, but this will be a challenge for him matching up against Wisconsin. Junior defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles is also a key player helping to plug the run in the middle and also rushing the passer if USC can get Wisconsin into third-and-long.
Which matchup will you pay the most attention to during the bowl game?
CC: For me, it's the big Wisconsin offensive line against South Carolina's defensive line. The Gamecocks have some athletic guys on the front line that can get after the passer, but I think a concern for South Carolina is the Badgers running it right at them. Arkansas is obviously a similar team schematically to Wisconsin and while the Gamecocks blew out Arkansas earlier this season, the team had some good fortune with turnovers and got up too much for Arkansas to run the football like the team would have wanted to in that game. If Wisconsin wins the line of scrimmage on offense and gashes South Carolina with the run, it will be a long game for the Gamecocks.
Finally, give me your score prediction and reasoning for the Capital One Bowl. Who comes out on top?
CC:Honestly, if I was handicapping this game it might classify as a "pick 'em" for me. I think both teams have areas of superiority and both teams have areas of weaknesses in terms of matchups against the opponent. This is a pretty evenly-matched game across the board and I expect it to be close regardless of the score or who wins at the end of the day. For me, I would probably have to lean towards South Carolina simply because of Connor Shaw. He's tough to bet against, and I have a feeling he will make just enough plays to help USC win by a score.
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