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Bowl game provides instant replay against Iowa

South Carolina senior wide receiver No. 9 Moe Brown turns the corner on an end around play.
South Carolina senior wide receiver No. 9 Moe Brown turns the corner on an end around play.

South Carolina will not get a shot at redemption against Iowa, the Big Ten team that manhandled the Gamecocks 31-10 in the Outback Bowl last season.

USC will settle for the next-best thing: a bowl matchup against a team that does a pretty good Iowa impression.

Gamecock coaches are struck by the similarities between the Hawkeyes and Connecticut, USC's Big East opponent in the Jan. 2 Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

Both teams feature big, physical offensive lines that pave the way for a stout rushing attack. Defensively, the Huskies play a lot of the same coverages Iowa employed last year against the Gamecocks in Tampa, Fla.

And while UConn has not been mentioned much in recent discussions of Big Ten expansion, the Huskies at least look the part.

"The style of offense is Iowa. It's that pro mentality. They're playing smash-mouth football, running the football," USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "You know you're going to get the power (runs). You're going to get Iso (isolation runs). That's what they do, and they say, 'Come stop it.' You can very well see them in a short-yardage formation on first-and-10."

During the Gamecocks' open date, USC coach Steve Spurrier watched the Huskies run 48 times for 231 yards in a 33-30 double-overtime win at Notre Dame.

"UConn's a tough team. They're a physical team. They'll try to run it down our throat, just like they ran it down Notre Dame's throat," Spurrier said. "So we've gotta be ready. We've gotta be tough. So we'll find out if we can match up with those guys."

While Iowa had a 1,700-yard rusher in Shonn Greene, UConn boasts a pair of tailbacks who have combined for more than 2,100 yards.

Sophomore Jordan Todman (1,152 yards on 226 carries) and fifth-year senior Andre Dixon (967 on 206 attempts) complement each other well. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Todman is a bruising back who runs hard between the tackles, while the 6-1, 202-pound Dixon is more of a scat back who will bounce outside.

"You don't have two tailbacks that are (both) close to 1,000-yard rushers unless they're good backs," USC assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said.

Ward said it appears UConn made more of a commitment to the running game after starting quarterback Cody Endres injured his shoulder against Rutgers on Oct. 31. Ward said the Huskies lined up in a two-back, two-tight end formation - usually reserved for short-yardage and goal-line situations - as much as 20 times a game after Zach Frazer took over for Endres.

"He's played well for them," Ward said of Frazer. "They haven't asked him to do a lot. But I think with this bowl preparation, they'll open it up a little more for him."

Johnson said the Gamecocks' front four would be tested by a UConn offense that does not try to disguise what it is doing.

"You watch the tape and nothing just jumps out from the film at you like, 'Wow, what is that?'" Johnson said. "But the ball moves and they make first downs and move the sticks. And they're putting points and yards on the board."

The Huskies are third in the Big East behind Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in scoring (32.1 points per game) and total offense (398.4 yards per game).

UConn has not been as strong on defense. The Huskies rank last in the Big East in total defense (382.4 yards per game) and pass defense - surrendering an average of 244.8 yards, which ranks 94th nationally.

Gamecocks tailback Brian Maddox said the Huskies' scrappy play on defense reminds him of one of USC's SEC East rivals.

"They fight 'til the whistle's blown. They're very similar to Vanderbilt in that aspect," Maddox said. "They just play hard."

Like Iowa last season, UConn has a solid defensive line that is tough against the run, according to Spurrier. Teams have rushed for an average of 137 yards a game against the Huskies - nearly identical to USC's average of 137.6.

"They're similar (to Iowa) up front. They've got strong defensive tackles and defensive ends that are good pass-rushers," Spurrier said. "They've given up some passing yards. But still, they're a good, solid team."