NCF Nation: 2012 capital one bowl

Georgia bowl X factor

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
9:00
AM ET
We're taking a look at Georgia's X factor for the Bulldogs' matchup with Nebraska in today's Capital One Bowl:

X FACTOR

Kwame Geathers, Jr., NG: With big man John Jenkins academically ineligible for today's game, Geathers steps in to try and clog the middle of Georgia's line against a very, very good running team. Nebraska led the Big Ten and ranked eighth nationally with 254.5 rushing yards per game. The Huskers are averaging 5.4 yards per attempt and run the ball almost 50 times a game. Georgia has to stop Nebraska's ground game or it's going to be a long day for the Bulldogs' defense.

Georgia enters the game with one of the SEC's worst rushing defenses, as the Bulldogs surrendered 177.8 yards on the ground per game. That was good enough for 12th in the SEC. Georgia is fresh off giving up 350 rushing yards to Alabama in the SEC championship and can't afford to get sloppy again up front because this defense will just wear down as the game goes on. That means Geathers, who has five tackles for loss on the year, has to get push up front to disrupt Nebraska's elite running game. Nebraska running backs Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah and quarterback Taylor Martinez combined for 2,597 rushing yards this season, so getting some pressure up the middle and clogging things up front will be key for Georgia's defense, as it looks to slow down the Huskers. Geathers isn't as wide as Jenkins, but he's taller and has a ton of strength. If he can slow plays up the middle, Georgia's defense should tire out like it did against Alabama.

Top SEC bowl performers

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
2:30
PM ET
The SEC still has three bowl teams left, but we're going to take a look at some players who have already seen their seasons come to an end.

It was a fun weekend of football and a good weekend for the SEC. The conference went 4-2, with Georgia and Vanderbilt being the only teams to come up short.

With those games came some pretty good performances from players.

Here are some top performers:
  • Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State: He saved one of his best performances for last, as he rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries. His touchdowns went for 60 and 72 yards.
  • Archibald Barnes, LB, Vanderbilt: He was all over the field for the Commodores, leading the Liberty Bowl with 10 total tackles. He also blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter that gave Vandy some life late.
  • Emory Blake, WR, Auburn: Blake made his day in the Georgia Dome look easy as he caught six passes for 108 yards in the win over Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
  • Jon Bostic, LB, Florida: He was one of the most active players on defense this past weekend, recording eight tackles, including four for loss.
  • Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia: In his final game as a Bulldog, Boykin found a way to put points on the board three different ways in the Outback Bowl. First, he forced a safety when he stuffed Michigan State's Keshawn Martin on the Spartans' first offensive play. He then returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown and caught a 13-yard touchdown late. His punt return was the longest play in Outback Bowl history.
  • Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: The true freshman put a stamp on his first season by recording two sacks for a loss of 13 yards. He finished the Capital One Bowl with four total tackles.
  • Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State: Cox made sure he went out with a blast in the Music City Bowl, recording seven tackles, with two coming for loss, had a sack and blocked a field goal.
  • Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt: He grabbed eight tackles, including one for loss, and grabbed two interceptions. With his picks, Hayward tied for first in career interceptions at Vanderbilt.
  • Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: If not for his ejection, Jeffery's numbers would have been much better. Still, he caught just four passes for a game-high 148 yards. He snagged Connor Shaw's Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the first half and had a 78-yard reception.
  • Tavarres King, WR, Georgia: King was almost one of the heroes for Georgia, catching six passes for a career-high 205 yards and had an 80-yard touchdown reception, which was also a career long. Before Boykin's punt return, King's play stood as the longest play in Outback Bowl history.
  • Onterio McCalebb, RB, Auburn: Taking over as Auburn's lead back in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, McCalebb had a game-high 109 rushing yards, including a long of 60 yards. He also recorded a 3-yard touchdown run and caught two passes for 53 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown.
  • Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia: He was all over the field for the Bulldogs, recording an Outback Bowl-high 13 tackles, including two for loss, broke up two passes and had a sack.
  • Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: Rainey ended his Florida career with a great showing against Ohio State in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. He led Florida with 71 rushing yards, had 31 receiving yards and blocked a punt that was scooped up and run in for a touchdown by linebacker Graham Stewart.
  • Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: Shaw didn't let the big stage bother him, as he passed for 230 yards and two touchdowns, including a nifty Hail Mary to end the first half. He also carried the ball for 42 yards and another touchdown.

South Carolina stopped a three-game losing streak in bowl games Monday with a 30-13 victory against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.

Here’s an instant analysis from the game:

How the game was won: South Carolina’s defense clamped down in the second half. In fact, Nebraska went scoreless the last three quarters after putting up 13 points in the first quarter. South Carolina was able to run it just enough (121 yards) to keep the Nebraska defense honest, and sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw kept the Huskers off balance with his ability to run. The Gamecocks also didn't turn it over, while the Huskers had two turnovers.

Turning point: The Gamecocks looked like they had mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half, leaving Shaw with just one play. He heaved it toward the end zone, and the 6-foot-4, 229-pound Alshon Jeffery went up over everybody to catch it and lunge across the goal line for a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown with no time remaining in the first half. So instead of going into the locker room trailing 13-9, the Gamecocks went in with a 16-13 lead and all the momentum.

Turning point II: The Huskers took the second-half kickoff and drove the ball down to the Gamecocks’ 8-yard line and had it first-and-goal. A motion penalty and a couple of big plays by South Carolina’s defense forced Nebraska to kick a field goal, and Brett Maher’s 35-yard attempt was no good.

Player of the game: Shaw finished 11-of-17 for 230 yards passing with a pair of touchdown passes, and he also rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown.

Unsung hero: Despite being kicked out of the game in the third quarter for fighting with Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Jeffery caught four passes for 148 yards, including the 51-yard touchdown pass right before the half, in what was likely his final game in a South Carolina uniform. He’s expected to enter the NFL draft.

Stat of the game: Nebraska was held to minus-15 yards in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the game II: South Carolina sacked Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez six times, and four of those sacks came in the fourth quarter.

Record performance: Jeffery had his 12th 100-yard receiving game, breaking the South Carolina school record. He also caught his 23rd career touchdown pass, tying Sidney Rice’s school record.

What it means: South Carolina (11-2) won 11 games in a season for the first time in school history and will likely be a top 10 or top 15 team nationally to start next season. Nebraska (9-4) ended the season by losing three of its last five games. It was also the Huskers’ second straight bowl loss.
Halftime has arrived in Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville.

Let's take a look at how the Big Ten teams are faring in the Florida bowls so far.

Nebraska-South Carolina, Capital One: A really good half for Nebraska ended in disaster, as the Huskers allowed a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery on the final play. Rather than leading 13-9, the Huskers go to the locker room down 16-13 -- and Bo Pelini has to be beside himself. His defense simply couldn't let a star like Jeffery get in position to make a play. Nebraska should have been leading by more had Ameer Abdullah not fumbled in the South Carolina red zone. Credit Nebraska's defense for preventing disaster after a long Jeffery reception set South Carolina up to completely change the game. The Huskers' defense forced a field goal try inside their own 10-yard line, and South Carolina missed. The offense has been balanced so far and has found some room against a very good South Carolina defense. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead both are making plays, and until the final seconds, the Blackshirts did a decent job against Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks' passing attack.

Michigan State-Georgia, Outback: The Spartans' defense actually played a phenomenal half but had little to show for it, as an anemic offense has hurt Michigan State against an SEC opponent in a bowl for the second straight year. A special-teams breakdown capped a horrendous second quarter, as Georgia leads 16-0 at the break. Michigan State fell behind 2-0 after a questionable swing pass from inside its own end zone resulted in a safety. The defense kept the score that way until late in the half, when Georgia's Tavarres King beat Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson for an 80-yard touchdown. After the offense stalled yet again, Michigan State allowed a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown. Kirk Cousins and the Spartans' offense must get something going soon after recording only two first downs and 72 total yards in the opening half. Georgia's defense looks faster and more physical, and Michigan State's play calling has been unimpressive. The Spartans are staring at another humbling bowl performance.

Ohio State-Florida, TaxSlayer.com Gator: Buckeyes fans won't be sorry to see offensive coordinator Jim Bollman go. Ohio State didn't pass the ball in the first quarter -- it took one sack -- even though freshman quarterback Braxton Miller threw the ball well in a Nov. 26 loss at Michigan. Things opened up a bit in the second quarter, and Miller finished the half 4-for-6 passing for 53 yards and a touchdown. Florida leads 14-10 thanks to a 99-yard kick return touchdown by Andre Debose. Ohio State entered the game ranked 10th nationally in kick coverage. The Buckeyes' defense has been so-so, letting Florida quarterback John Brantley get a bit too comfortable but forcing a pair of turnovers. Ohio State must get better on third down, as Florida has converted 4 of 6 opportunities. These teams are evenly matched, and Ohio State should have a shot to win if it can limit the major breakdowns.

Gamecocks seniors seeking bowl win

January, 2, 2012
1/02/12
12:19
PM ET
When Antonio Allen looks back at his South Carolina career, he can’t help but feel that it was almost perfect.

Almost.

Though South Carolina has undergone a tremendous transition since the senior safety stepped on campus, he has yet to savor the sweet taste of a bowl victory.

He has hoisted no trophies with his teammates at the end of the season, and until he does, his South Carolina career will feel incomplete.

Getting a win Monday against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl would end a three-game losing streak in bowl games for the Gamecocks and it would also give the program its first 11-win season.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Allen
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireAntonio Allen and the Gamecocks are hoping to secure the program's first 11-win season.
“It would be great to get that 11th win because no one has ever done it in South Carolina history. We want to be the first to make history,” Allen said.

South Carolina didn’t exactly have a rich tradition before Steve Spurrier arrived. Spurrier has done wonders for the program, but this group of seniors has also been a major factor in elevating South Carolina to a program that made it to its first SEC championship game in 2010 and won 10 games for only the second time in school history in 2011.

“We came a long way,” senior defensive tackle Travian Robertson said.

“It’s been a great ride coming from the bottom and trying to get to the top.”

But that run has come without much success in the postseason. Spurrier is just 1-4 in bowl games and the Gamecocks have been outscored 77-38 in their last three losses.

Allen said the losses have been frustrating, but what’s been more frustrating is seeing a lack of chemistry at times. Allen said that before last season’s run to Atlanta, he noticed that players were never as close as they should have been. The Gamecocks were more of a group than a team.

Now, Allen said he sees more of a family inside South Carolina’s football complex. There is more trust and players are happier around each other. That mentality has the Gamecocks feeling much more confident heading into the Capital One Bowl.

With South Carolina’s recent success have come heightened expectations. Robertson and Allen agreed that fans are proud of where the program has come but expect the winning to continue and expect the Gamecocks to be competing for championships more often.

Allen and Robertson are OK with that because they feel South Carolina is on track to do just that.

“We came in with the purpose to win and try to win championships,” Robertson said. “We’ve accomplished some of our goals, but it feels great to know that we started something that’s going to be great around here. I know that once we get it started, Coach Spurrier and all of the other coaches are going to keep it going.”

Regardless of Monday’s outcome, Allen said he’d always look back at his South Carolina career and feel as though he helped accomplish a lot for the program.

Still, hoisting that bowl trophy for the first time wouldn’t be so bad.

“Hopefully it means a lot and I can tell my kids and they can tell their kids about it,” he said. “Hopefully, the tradition doesn’t stop with me and it goes along with my kids.”
Let's look at three keys for Nebraska as it takes on South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.

1. Establish tempo on offense: When Nebraska's offense operates in high tempo, it's extremely tough to stop. The key is finding that rhythm, and the Huskers will need to be effective with first- and second-down runs. Junior I-back Rex Burkhead needs to pick up positive yards to prevent obvious passing situations, when Gamecocks standout pass-rushers Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney can pin their ears back and go. South Carolina's defense is outstanding against the pass, but the Huskers can attack the Gamecocks on the ground with Burkhead, quarterback Taylor Martinez and others. Nebraska's offensive line has dealt with inexperience and injuries all season. This is the time for the unit to step up.

2. Alfonzo Dennard vs. Alshon Jeffery: The game's best one-on-one matchup pits Nebraska's top cornerback (Dennard) against South Carolina's star wideout (Jeffery). Dennard has shut down standout receivers like Iowa's Marvin McNutt, and he'll need a strong effort against another NFL prospect in Jeffery, who holds South Carolina's career receiving record. Opposing teams often shy away from throwing in Dennard's direction, but South Carolina's Connor Shaw will be looking for Jeffery on Monday. Which Nebraska defense shows up will go a long way toward determining the game's outcome, and the Huskers will lean heavily on Dennard.

3. Win the turnover battle: South Carolina has struggled with giveaways in its bowl losses, while Nebraska committed eight turnovers in its three defeats and just nine others in its other nine contests. If the Huskers can hang onto the football and force a mistake or two from Shaw and the Gamecocks' ball-carriers, they'll be in good shape to pull off the victory. Nebraska senior linebacker Lavonte David has been the defense's top playmaker, recording two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Look for David to set the tone and have a strong performance in his final game as a Husker.
The last time Nebraska played a Steve Spurrier-coached team, the Huskers steamrolled Florida 62-24 for the national title. The stakes won't be as high when the Huskers meet Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks in the Capital One Bowl, and the scoring doesn't figure to reach anywhere near those heights, either.

WHO TO WATCH: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and I-back Rex Burkhead. The ball is almost always in one of these two Huskers' hands. They combined to rush for more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns, including some option work between the pair. When we last saw Burkhead, he carried a school-record 38 times for 160 yards in a win over Iowa. The month off should really help him get his legs back after a heavy workload this season. Martinez made great strides as a game manager and leader this year but remains an inconsistent passer, as his 55.9 completion percentage attests. Martinez and Burkhead are a formidable pair, but they'll have to be at their best to counter an impressive South Carolina defense that allowed fewer than 270 total yards per game this season. Can either one of them turn the corner on the edge, especially with top-flight defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney in pursuit?

WHAT TO WATCH: Can the Nebraska defense match South Carolina's? The Huskers thought they would have the same kind of disruptive defensive line as the Gamecocks boast this season, but an injury to star Jared Crick and underwhelming performances by others made this an average group. Lavonte David had an All-America season at linebacker, but much of the rest of the front seven was inconsistent during the year. This isn't a typical Spurrier team, especially with quarterback Connor Shaw posing as much of a threat running as he does passing. Star receiver Alshon Jeffery has been all but ignored and should be neutralized by Nebraska stud cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. So it will probably be up to the Huskers' front to make plays and disrupt South Carolina's timing in what could be a low-scoring affair. Do they have a Blackshirt-worthy performance in them?

WHY TO WATCH: Neither of these teams won a conference championship or even a division title, but this still has a chance to be one of the best non-BCS matchups. Both teams have a lot of talent and speed and spent some time hanging around the Top 10 this season. Nebraska has a chance to clinch its third straight 10-win season and will play its first postseason game as a Big Ten member. What better way for the Huskers to ingratiate themselves into their new league then by winning a bowl game against the SEC?

PREDICTION: South Carolina 20, Nebraska 17. It will be a defensive grinder, and the Huskers will struggle to move the ball down the field as the Gamecocks force Martinez to beat them with his arm. South Carolina's defense is just too good, and its speed helps contain Burkhead and the Nebraska option game.

Capital One Bowl: Keys for S. Carolina

January, 1, 2012
1/01/12
12:00
PM ET
A look at three keys to the game for South Carolina in its Capital One Bowl matchup with Nebraska on Monday:

1. Balance on offense: The Gamecocks don’t want to put sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw in a position where he has to throw. Instead, they want to be able to run the ball successfully, use Shaw some in the zone read portion of their running game and then hit some big plays in the passing game. This will likely be junior receiver Alshon Jeffery’s final game in a South Carolina uniform. He needs to be a factor in this game if the Gamecocks are going to win.

2. Force Martinez to throw: There’s a reason Nebraska is ranked 103rd nationally in passing offense. The Cornhuskers would rather run it than throw it. Quarterback Taylor Martinez didn’t throw any interceptions in his final four games, and the Huskers would prefer to throw it no more than 23 to 25 times. He threw it a season-high 37 times in the loss to Northwestern and only completed nine passes two weeks later in the loss to Michigan.

3. Get off to a good start: One of the common denominators for South Carolina in its bowl misery is getting off to slow starts. The Gamecocks would like to change that. Playing with the lead would be nice, especially when your defense is playing as well as the Gamecocks are entering this game.
South Carolina looks to win 11 games in a season for the first time in school history when it plays Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Monday in Orlando. Here’s a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: South Carolina sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw. After taking over the starting job in October from fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia, Shaw was at his best to close the regular season. He was 30-of-38 passing in his final two games and torched Clemson with three touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown. Garcia was never able to lead South Carolina to a bowl victory, and his bowl performances typically mirrored the Gamecocks’ struggles in the postseason. Here’s Shaw’s chance to break that curse in his first postseason start.

WHAT TO WATCH: South Carolina’s front seven vs. Nebraska’s running game. The Gamecocks are menacing up front defensively with a mix of veterans and young talent. Senior defensive end Melvin Ingram was the Gamecocks' first consensus All-American in nearly 30 years, and freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is on a fast track to the NFL after collecting six sacks and forcing five fumbles this season. They will have their hands full with the Nebraska running game, and that includes sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez. Rex Burkhead leads the Cornhuskers with 1,268 rushing yards, but Martinez also racked up 837 yards and rushed for nine touchdowns. Nebraska averages 223.9 rushing yards per game, which is ranked No. 13 nationally.

WHY TO WATCH: Both teams want to get sour bowl tastes out of their mouths. The Gamecocks have lost three in a row, including a couple of wretched performances. The Huskers laid an egg last season in their second consecutive Holiday Bowl appearance, bowing meekly to Washington 19-7. Nebraska has its sights set on a third straight 10-win season. A South Carolina win would give the Gamecocks their first 11-win season in school history and would ensure a top 10 finish.

PREDICTION: South Carolina 24, Nebraska 20. The Gamecocks showed a lot of resolve this season, and it took them a while to adapt to what Shaw does best at quarterback. Down the stretch, he was excellent, and his teammates played well around him. The best thing the Gamecocks have going for them is one of the best defenses in the country, and newly named defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will turn those guys loose in Orlando.
The 2011 season has been all about getting up to speed for Nebraska's offense.

In film sessions. In practices. In games.

The Huskers had to absorb a new system under coordinator Tim Beck, and do so with one of the Big Ten's youngest units. Nebraska had 11 players on the offensive two-deep make their collegiate debuts this season. While Huskers players studied their own scheme, Beck and the offensive staff had to guesstimate how 11 new opponents would defend Nebraska.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Zuma Press/Icon SMIQB Taylor Martinez and the Huskers plan to keep the game's tempo at a fast pace against South Carolina.
"The hard part was us as coaches trying to figure out what the hell teams were trying to do to us," Beck recently told ESPN.com. "We never knew."

Given the obstacles, Nebraska's offenses fared pretty well overall.

The Huskers finished 13th nationally in rushing and fourth in the Big Ten in both scoring and total yards. They tied for 10th nationally in red-zone efficiency and performed decently on third down.

"We're getting there," Beck said. "The games we lost, we turned the ball over. The thing that really impressed me about our players was their ability to adapt during the course of the game. When we saw things or felt like this could be good or this blocking scheme might be better, they were able to adapt to it pretty well.

"Didn't freak out, didn't panic."

And as has been the case for months, Nebraska's learning curve on offense must be accelerated for its upcoming Capital One Bowl matchup.

The Huskers take on a South Carolina team ranked No. 4 nationally in total defense. The Gamecocks have held seven of their past nine opponents to 16 points or fewer.

"They're really good," Beck said. "They're fast. You can see through the course of the year how they’ve grown, how they understand their system better."

The same can be said for Nebraska.

Although the Huskers put up some big numbers in September (171 points), the unit had a rough night in the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin and a few other hiccups along the way. The offensive line constantly shuffled personnel and the team's youth at receiver showed up at times, but certain players made strides as the season progressed, including I-back Rex Burkhead, receiver Kenny Bell and, most important, quarterback Taylor Martinez.

The sophomore threw three interceptions in the Wisconsin loss and came under fire from fans before rebounding the next week against Ohio State. Martinez enters the bowl having attempted 116 consecutive passes without an interception. He has only one pick in his last 26 quarters (152 attempts).

"Where things started to get better actually was after Wisconsin," Beck said. "Most teams that get better or people that improve in any aspect of life, you've got to know what it is to hit bottom. That was an eye-opening experience for him. That was something that woke him up."

Martinez followed the Wisconsin loss with a strong five-game stretch, completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 865 yards and six touchdowns. He continued to attack defenses with his feet in a system that seemed to accentuate his strengths.

"We knew we had the offense when Taylor got us out of a lot of bad looks and gave us a chance to win on every play," left tackle Yoshi Hardrick said. "We've got a physical offense, we run the option and Taylor's the man with the ball. We run a lot of play-action pass off the line. It fits him well."

Martinez was at his best and Nebraska's offense was at its best when operating at an extremely fast tempo. Once the Huskers picked up a first down or two, they zoomed downfield to the end zone.

Against Ohio State, the Huskers had only seven first downs in the opening half and trailed 20-6. They moved the chains 18 times in the second half and rallied to win 34-27.

"We want to play in that high tempo as much as we can," Beck said. "Our players seem to play well that way, our quarterback in particular."

It's a focal point for the Huskers against South Carolina, which ranks second nationally in pass defense and has shut down better aerial attacks than Nebraska's. Hardrick acknowledges it'll be the line's fault if Nebraska finds itself in third-and-long against the Gamecocks.

South Carolina is led by defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, who have combined for 14.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.

Hardick breaks down both stars.

Ingram: "He's different from a Big Ten D-end because in the SEC, it's more of a finesse rush. In the Big Ten, it's more of a power rush. He’s very active with his feet and hands, and he likes to get tackles in space. I just like how he plays hard. You've got to respect a man who plays like that."

Clowney: "Clowney’s their best pass rusher. On third down, that’s easy to see. Clowney’s the more natural pass rusher. He doesn't look like a true freshman at all."

Beck is very excited about the long-term outlook for Nebraska's offense, especially with nine starters returning in 2012. But the short term provides an excellent growth opportunity against South Carolina.

"You always want to play your best," Beck said. "If you can do that against a great opponent like South Carolina, it will carry on into next season."

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