Bowl Game is Litmus Test for Season
The Huskers will be facing a determined squad, because South Carolina is aiming for a school-record 11th win. The Gamecocks are an exceptional rushing team, not unlike the Huskers. Watching highlights of running back Marcus Lattimore before his injury was eerily similar to the tough, shifty running style of Rex Burkhead. Coupled with a nationally ranked top 5 defense for total yards, this is a team that will attempt to control every aspect of the game, beginning with pressure on Martinez.
The SEC is always touted as the conference displaying the prowess of team speed, but it is espcially obvious in the case of the defensive front for South Carolina. The ends, All-American Melvin Ingram and All-SEC Jadeveon Clowney, are especially dangerous. Their combined efforts have earned 40 solo tackles, 14 solo sacks, and 12 QB hurries. They play a large part in the minimal 133 yards passing/game allowed by the defense. To say that this may be the toughest test for the composure of QB Taylor Martinez and the offensive line is an understatement.
Heavy doses of running, screens, and quick decisions will be the key to avoid having Martinez on his back. The progress he has made in the second half of the season will be put to the fire and be shown as a fluke, or just the new form he possesses. Controlling the USC front four is the only way to prevent that fire from burning up all the composure Martinez has shown.
The overall success of the offense will not be on how many yards Martinez puts up, but a combination of his good decisions and Rex Burkhead taking a large majority of the carries. If Burkhead gets 30 touches, there is a good chance that the up-tempo offense can wear out the opponent. Against Auburn earlier this year, the USC defense was worn down by long drives that controlled the clock.
Like Nebraska, South Carolina relies heavily on their running back to change the tempo of the game to suit their plan. Lattimore was knocked out for the season with injury, but in his place freshman Brandon Wilds is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. His running style has been compared to Roy Helu, Jr. Husker defenders have to consistently stick with the mechanics of sound tackling in order to neutralize him and duel threat QB Connor Shaw. Shaw stepped in to replace the maligned Stephen Garcia and has never looked back to the tune of 6 out of 7 wins, 1200+ yards, 12 passing TDs, and 7 TDs on the ground.
The Huskers have faced comprably tough defenses in Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State. They have matched up against good running backs and dual threat quarterbacks like Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Russell Wilson, PSU's Silas Redd, Michigan's Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint, or even Minnesota's MarQueis Gray. But South Carolina may be the fastest, most complete team effort they have seen this season.