GAME SNAPSHOTMeineke Car Care Bowl
South Florida vs. Clemson
KICKOFF: Friday, noon ET
SITE: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
SERIES: First meeting.
RECORDS: USF 7-5, Clemson 6-6
POLLS: Neither team is ranked.
PREDICTION: USF 17-14
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For USF: USF is going to have to deal with the disappointment of losing to Connecticut in the final minute of the regular-season finale, but the nearly four-week gap between games should heal those wounds. The Bulls are looking to add to their resume to build on for next season -- and a bowl win, plus the victory over Miami, would help validate the program. Clemson has to be disappointed to finish 6-6 after playing in last season's ACC Championship game.
Coach Skip Holtz wanted to have the running backs assume more responsibility in the running game this season after quarterbacks had led the Bulls in rushing for each of the past four seasons, and he got his wish. Senior RB Moise Plancher led the Bulls in rushing with 743 yards, and sophomore Demetris Murray was right behind with 517 in 10 games. QB B.J. Daniels rushed for 237 yards despite missing the last six quarters.
Daniels struggled with interceptions at critical moments early in the year and with injuries late in the season but still for threw for 1,496 yards while increasing his completion percent to 56.4 percent from 53.7 as a redshirt freshman in 2009. He managed that even though he had only one of his top receivers available when A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin (50 catches between them in 2009) sat out the year with injuries. That left the heavy duty up to senior Dontavia Bogan (46 catches for 670 yards). When Daniels couldn't continue in the second half at Miami, freshman walk-on Bobby Eveld engineered the comeback win over the Hurricanes.
USF was solid enough against the run, giving up only seven rushing touchdowns and holding opponents to just 131.8 yards per game on the ground. The Bulls gave up 251 yards rushing to Florida and 219 to West Virginia early in the season but held Miami, which had topped the 200-yard mark in five of its previous six games, to just 165 with 71 of that total coming on one play. UConn managed just 120 in the regular-season finale.
The Bulls lost an effective pass rusher when DE Craig Marshall went out with a foot injury, but he returned for the last game and should be a real factor in USF's pass rush. He had four sacks when he went down. USF wound up with 28 sacks and 13 interceptions with FS Jerrell Young leading with three and backup LB Mike Lanaris picking off two.
The Bulls seemed to have solved their problems in the kicking game with PK Maikon Bonani, who missed the 2009 season with a back injury, regaining his job when Eric Schwartz struggled early on. Bonani was 16 of 19 on field goals with two of the misses from more than 50 yards. P Justin Brockhaus-Kann averaged only 38.0 yards on 61attempts. KR Lindsey Lamar returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and PR Terrence Mitchell averaged better than 10 yards on punt returns.
-- For Clemson: Clemson's players talked all season about never quitting. The Meineke Car Care Bowl is the Tigers' final chance to reinforce that statement and to keep the program above .500 all-time in bowl games. Also a factor will be Tajh Boyd and his status at quarterback -- will his transition look as if it will be smooth and promising or rough and problematic?
As they were in their final five games, the Tigers will be solely dependent on RB Jamie Harper, who has struggled in the zone-read at times because it's new to him. Perhaps 15 days of practice will sharpen his knowledge. Harper assumed the lead role after Andre Ellington injured his foot in the loss at Boston College on Oct. 30. Harper doesn't have Ellington's big-play potential, but he did post back-to-back 100-yard games against Florida State and Wake Forest late in the season.
QB Tajh Boyd received precious little opportunity to throw the ball until replacing Kyle Parker in the third quarter of the South Carolina game. Boyd's numbers were unspectacular -- 10 of 18 for 76 yards -- so he enters the bowl as an unknown commodity. Clemson's young receivers, led by DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown, were just beginning to emerge at season's end.
Run defense is the defensive unit's forte. The Tigers are particularly strong up front with pro prospects such as Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson joining the rapidly improving Rennie Moore. LB Corico Hawkins, who finished the season with a career-high 13 tackles against South Carolina, is the best run-stopper among linebackers. DE DaQuan Bowers is a beast.
Despite some costly busts in coverage this season, when you have the national sacks leader (Bowers) on your side, the pass defense can't be too bad. Bowers, who led the nation with 15.5 sacks and ranked second with 25 tackles for loss, is a relentless rusher and his pressure on opposing quarterbacks probably led to many of the secondary's 14 interceptions.
Clemson's punting has been in capable hands, with Dawson Zimmerman emerging as one of the league's best, but the placekicking was another story. Most would say kicking troubles cost Clemson two games -- some might argue three -- during the season. At one point, Chandler Catanzaro and Richard Jackson combined to miss five consecutive field goals over three games. But Catanzaro did make his last three attempts of the season and seemed confident over the team's last few games.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Dontavia Bogan -- Bogan has been about the only reliable receiver the Bulls have had to anchor their passing attack. Despite missing one game with an ankle injury, he had 46 catches, as many as the next two receivers (Evan Landi and Lindsey Lamar) combined. They were good for 670 yards and five touchdowns.
QB B.J. Daniels -- Daniels sat out the last half of the game at Miami and the entire game against Connecticut with a leg injury. Though his backup, freshman walk-on Bobb Eveld, certainly had his moments, Daniels still gives the Bulls the best chance for success on offense. Though not the freelancer he once was, he adds a running threat (237 yards) to the offense.
WR/KR Lindsey Lamar -- Lamar ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 28.1 yards on 30 returns. That put him second in the Big East.
QB Tajh Boyd -- A redshirt freshman, Boyd is expected to get the start as the offense turns the page from Kyle Parker. Boyd is the Tigers' future while Parker's two-year career appears to be coming to an unceremonious end following a heated exchange with Coach Dabo Swinney in the Tigers' 29-7 loss to rival South Carolina. Swinney has said that he'll play the quarterback that gives his team "the best chance to win," but expect a heavy dose of Boyd.
WR DeAndre Hopkins -- Hopkins has shown improvement throughout the season and has emerged as the most reliable and best deep threat among Clemson's youthful receivers. If the Tigers' offense is to have a productive bowl game, Hopkins will have to be an integral part.
DE Da'Quan Bowers -- Bowers, a junior, will be playing in his final game before making the jump to the NFL. Projected as a top five pick in next year's NFL Draft, Bowers still has some unfinished business -- including getting the school's single-season sack record, which he shares with Keith Adams (15.5).
RB Andre Ellington (foot, out).