NCF Nation: Huskies-Gamecocks 010210

A quick look at Connecticut’s 20-7 victory over South Carolina on Saturday in the Papajohns.com Bowl:

How the game was won: It was eerily similar to last year’s Outback Bowl debacle for the Gamecocks, who again were manhandled at the line of scrimmage offensively and barely put up a fight. So much for being more focused for this bowl game, huh? In their past two postseason affairs, the Gamecocks have scored a total of 17 points, and all of those have come when the game had already been decided. South Carolina was held to 205 yards of total offense and didn’t even gain a first down until its sixth offensive series.

Turning point: Trailing 7-0, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier gambled and elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 32. The Gamecocks had gone three-and-out on their first two possessions. Quarterback Stephen Garcia was stuffed up the middle about a foot short of the first-down marker, and the Huskies took over in South Carolina territory. They turned the short field into a 33-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead and never looked back.

Stat of the game: The Gamecocks were 3-of-15 on third-down conversions and had five three-and-outs for the game.

Second guessing: Stephon Gilmore is only a freshman, and his plate is already full as a cornerback and punt returner. But when you’re struggling as much as the Gamecocks were offensively Saturday, don’t you have to give him a few more shots in the Wildcat package?

What it means: In short, the Gamecocks (7-6) still aren’t ready for primetime. Not even close. And anybody who’s followed the South Carolina program over the years has seen this movie more than a few times. The script goes something like this: The Gamecocks show signs of hope – maybe even signs of breaking through – with that big win over arch-rival Clemson in the regular-season finale and then fall flat on their faces in the bowl game against a team they were at least as good as, and probably more talented than. There’s some promising young talent in this program, but six-loss seasons are starting to get old. If Spurrier doesn’t make a move in the East next season, his next move might be to the golf course full time.

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Instant analysis of the Papajohns.com Bowl, which Connecticut won 20-7 over South Carolina:

How the game was won: The Huskies were brutalized defensively in the final month of the regular season, but they played like an iron curtain against the offensively suspect Gamecocks. They shut down the run and got heavy pressure on South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia. UConn took advantage of the Gamecocks' many mistakes, controlled field position and did what it does best on offense: Run the ball and add a few shots downfield in the passing game.

Turning point: Garcia scrambled for a short gain but then coughed the football up while being hit late in the fourth quarter. UConn's Scott Lutrus recovered the loose ball. Eight Andre Dixon rushes later and the Huskies were in the end zone for an insurmountable 20-0 lead.

Stat of the game: While the Gamecocks kept shooting themselves in the foot with dropped passes and turnovers, Connecticut did not commit a penalty.

Player of the game: Dixon had 33 carries for 125 yards and a score. It's not a great per-carry average, but the senior went over 1,000 yards for the season (joining teammate Jordan Todman) and helped UConn control the clock against a pretty stout defense.

Unsung hero: Kendall Reyes. The defensive tackle was dominant up front against the South Carolina offensive line, leading the charge for a Huskies pass rush that overwhelmed Garcia and compared favorably to anything the Gamecocks saw in the SEC.

What it means: In the last Big East game of bowl season, UConn turned in the league's best performance. What a finish for a team that went through so much heartache throughout the middle of the season. The Huskies won their last four games and should go into 2010 receiving heavy consideration for the Top 25 since they return the bulk of their roster. After Cincinnati's terrible showing against Florida, UConn saved a little league face by beating an SEC team for the first time ever, albeit a mediocre one at best.


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