The Five Keys to Victory over South Carolina
1, Joel Stave
It should worry Badgers fans that Stave had his most erratic games as the season ended, against Minnesota and Penn State. If this trend continues it means only one thing: the Badgers will lose. Key matchup: once again, Joel Stave vs Joel Stave.
2, Keeping Joel Stave upright Jadeveon Clowney has gotten lots of attention leading into the game, but it should be mentioned that he is only 10th in tackles for South Carolina with 35 (he does have 10.5 TFLs and three sacks, as well). His linemate Kelcy Quarles has 13.5 TFLs and 9.5 sacks. Clowney's chief strength is his ability to disrupt plays, as his eight QB hurries demonstrates.
The Badgers will need to find a way to protect Stave. It is no secret that every team that has played the Badgers has defended the run first. It will happen again today. Rolling Stave out of the pocket has not worked and keeping a tight end in to help block only limits Stave's options. Look for the Badgers to utilize screen plays to neutralize the South Carolina pass rush. The Badgers will need to develop these more quickly than previously demonstrated. If they can't find a way to complete a few passes it could prove to be UW's first Capitol One Bowl loss.
3, A tough defense
Much is made about South Carolina being a successful team from the SEC, but a closer look shows that success is relative. South Carolina did not play Auburn, Alabama, Texas A&M or LSU in the regular season. The best win was against SEC newcomer Missouri, and losses were to mediocre Georgia and Tennessee teams. The Badgers defense will present the South Carolina's offense with the most difficult challenge of the year and they might be surprised, and a little unprepared, for the physical nature of the game.
Additionally the Gamecocks' second-best receiver (Damiere Byrd, 48 yards per game) is out. The Badgers have played reasonably well against a scrambling quarterback in 2013 (South Carolina's QB Connor Shaw has averaged 43 yards per game) and not as well against drop back passers like Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. Key matchup: Chris Borland vs Shaw.
4, Coordinated coordinators
Neither of Wisconsin's coordinators (Dave Aranda for the defense and Andy Ludwig on offense) had their best games against PSU. Aranda admitted that his squad was not showing the same intensity and concentration leading up to the Penn State loss, while Ludwig's play calling and game planning both looked ill-matched with the reality of UW's talent and PSU's counters. This bowl game will give Badgers fans a good view of how the first year UW coaches use the 15 practices afforded by the bowl game.
5, No Strings
UW running backs James White and Melvin Gordon had fewer long runs as the season wore on. Often this was a matter of a shoestring tackle that prevented UW's big play strike. Both White and Gordon, along with wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, will need to connect on big play opportunities as they are presented. Given some inconsistency on offense, it does not appear that sustained drives can be counted on. Dropping TD passes against South Carolina will be deadly.
This is a very difficult game to predict Looking at the season results shows that South Carolina is not as strong as ranking indicated, and Vegas recognizes this. But South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier wins bowl games and UW coach Gary Andersen and his coaching staff are facing their biggest bowl game. Look for UW's defense to impress. If UW can get a few long touchdown strikes to go along with the defense it will be a game to watch. If South Carolina can fluster Stave, Badgers fans will be in for a long day.
Final Prediction: Wisconsin 31, South Carolina 28.