Josh Kendall: Badgers face a tough foe in USC
Here’s the number that has stuck with me throughout the lead-up to Wednesday’s Capital One Bowl — 167.5.
That’s the number of rushing yards Wisconsin averaged against the two ranked teams it faced this season. That’s not terrible. In fact, it’s the 31st-best rank in the country, one spot ahead of the 166.5 rushing yards per game South Carolina averaged against ranked opponents, but it’s not nearly as fearsome as the 283 yards per game on the ground that have the Badgers ranked seventh in the country in rushing offense overall.
Wisconsin rushed for 554 yards against Indiana and 388 yards against Purdue. Those two teams have the Nos. 116 and 117 rushing defenses in the country. Without those totals, the Badgers averaged 245.4 on the ground this season, which would rank 14th in the nation. Still good, but not as eye-popping.
On the flip side, Wisconsin gained 104 yards on the ground against Ohio State, which has the country’s sixth-best rushing defense, and 120 yards in their last outing against Penn State, which has the country’s 39th-best rushing defense.
In short, the Badgers run wild over teams with bad run defenses. Not so much against teams with good rushing defenses. South Carolina finished 34th in the country and second in the SEC in rushing defense this year, allowing 142.3 yards per game on the ground.
The outcome will be determined by two things, Wisconsin’s ability to run the ball and to contain Connor Shaw’s scramble plays. If the Badgers can’t hold onto the ball, it makes it that much more difficult to handle Shaw because he will be on the field that much longer. I don’t think they can hold onto the ball.
David Cloninger: Shaw will be the difference
I looked at the Wisconsin bells and whistles when the Badgers were announced as South Carolina’s bowl opponent and then closed the book. It’s basketball season, and I had more pressing concerns.
Now that the game is here, I revisited football. Wisconsin is a very, very good team.
But so are the Gamecocks.
Steve Spurrier is right that USC is not a super team. The Gamecocks have not been dominant, but they have this thing going on right now — they know that they’re going to get a tiny play to go their way, and it’s going to point the way to victory. It’s happened so many times over the past three years that it’s getting to be taken for granted. That’s fine, though, because it keeps happening.
It will happen again Wednesday. Wisconsin will rush for some yards, hit one big pass, play great defense. USC will counter, finally get Mike Davis back in tune, pick off one throw and then let the guy do what he does.
The guy is Connor Shaw. Already the winningest quarterback the Gamecocks have ever had, he’ll add one more victory to his coffer. He’s not going to leave without being known as the man who, more than any other, orchestrated three consecutive 11-2 seasons.