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Gameday preview: USC vs. UConn

Stephen Garcia gives instructions to the line against S.C. State.
Stephen Garcia gives instructions to the line against S.C. State.

INJURIES

USC - OL Quintin Richardson (shoulder) is out; CB Addison Williams (hamstring) and S Jarrett Burns (finger) are questionable.

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Five storylines

Redemption Bowl

That is what USC quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus dubbed the game for the Gamecocks' Stephen Garcia. In the Outback Bowl last year in his Tampa hometown, Garcia had four turnovers on the first four possessions and was benched in the 31-10 loss to Iowa. Garcia could have a big day against a Huskies' defense that allows 245 passing yards per game - last in the Big East.

Shades of Memphis?

The last time USC beat Clemson, the Gamecocks went on to win their bowl game, 44-36 against Houston in the 2006 Liberty Bowl. As was the case in Memphis, USC enters the game as a favorite against an opponent with a potent offense and suspect defense. Steve Spurrier's teams have been held under 21 points twice in 15 bowl appearances, including last year.

No more Norwood

USC fans should take a few plays today to focus solely on All-American linebacker Eric Norwood. Watch how he never slows down, even on plays that go to the other side of the field. Norwood will have his name on the Williams-Brice Stadium walls twice next year - as the school's career sacks and tackles for loss leader - and will try to add to both totals in his USC finale.

Let's get physical

In the 35 days between the Clemson game and the Papajohns.com Bowl, Spurrier must have mentioned UConn's physicality at least that many times. The Huskies have a strong offensive line that opens holes for the tailback tandem of Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman. USC has more speed than UConn, but needs to play tough to prevent the Huskies from controlling the line.

Take cover

USC gets a final chance to prove it can cover kicks against a UConn return team that ranks second in the Big East with a 26-yard average. The Gamecocks allowed three kick returns for touchdowns and are last in the SEC in coverage. The Huskies have brought back three kicks for scores this season, each by a different player.

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Key matchup

USC LBs Eric Norwood and Shaq Wilson vs. UConn RBs Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman

About Norwood/Wilson: Wilson and Norwood are 1-2 on USC's tackles list. Wilson has 78 tackles since taking over at middle linebacker for Rodney Paulk, who went down with a season-ending knee injury in the first game. Norwood has done it all this season with two interceptions, three blocked kicks and seven sacks.

How they'll win: The Huskies do not disguise what they are doing, often lining up in two-tight end, two-back sets and daring teams to stop the run. Wilson and Norwood must get off blocks and wrap up.

Key number: 19, percent of the Gamecocks' tackles this season made by Wilson and Norwood (149 of 769 total stops).

About Dixon/Todman: The duo has combined for 2,100 yards to surpass the 2008 total of Donald Brown, who was the Indianapolis Colts' first-round draft pick last year. Dixon is a bigger back who likes to run between the tackles, while Todman often bounces plays outside and has a burst Norwood compared to C.J. Spiller's.

How they'll win: When USC gave up big rushing performances to Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram of Alabama and Tennessee's Montario Hardesty, the Gamecocks were sloppy with their tackling. Dixon is a tough runner who does not go down easily. UConn will try to establish its ground game early on, and will need its offensive line to come out aggressively to do so.

Key number: 3, games this season in which Dixon and Todman each rushed for 100 yards or more (vs. Ohio, Baylor and Notre Dame).

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Five Questions Darian Stewart, No. 24/Strong safety/Huntsville, Ala.

Stewart is one of two Alabama natives on USC's roster playing in their home state (safety Jarrett Burns also is from Huntsville). Stewart, a senior and three-year starter, reflects on playing his final college game at Legion Field.

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward was talking about how difficult it is to get players out of Alabama. Did most of the best players you played with want to stay in state?

Most of the top kids in the state wanted to go to Alabama or Auburn. But I actually wanted to get out of state. I'm different from everybody else. I just wanted to get away from home and I was fortunate enough to get an offer from South Carolina.

How would you describe high school football in Alabama?

It's real. (Class) 5A and 6A - 5A where I played at - it's pretty good. There's a lot of competitive play in Alabama - country boys, big boys. I love it.

What will it be like to finish your career at home?

Emotional. I'm glad I'm playing my last game in Alabama. It's a good feeling. But I know it's going to be very emotional. It's all right. Life goes on.

Have you ever played at Legion Field?

No. I wasn't fortunate enough to get to the state championship so I wasn't able to play there. We made it to the quarterfinals my senior year.

Will that be neat for you? Did you grow up going to any Iron Bowl games?

I don't believe I actually went to an Iron Bowl before. I've never been to Legion Field. So it's the first time for me. Most definitely (looking forward to it).

Person's pick: USC 34, UConn 24

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