SEC: Bowl 2009 bowls

Instant analysis: UConn 20, South Carolina 7

January, 2, 2010
A quick look at Connecticut’s 20-7 victory over South Carolina on Saturday in the 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.

video Bowl preview

January, 1, 2010
Breaking down the Bowl on Saturday (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET) between Connecticut (7-5) and South Carolina (7-5):

WHO TO WATCH: South Carolina senior outside linebacker Eric Norwood has been one of the best defensive players in the SEC for the last three seasons. He’s a three-time All-SEC selection and will leave South Carolina as the school’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss. He has seven sacks this season, tying him for third in the league, and he was the catalyst for so many of the Gamecocks’ game-changing plays on defense. He’s not just a pass-rusher, either. He had an interception return for a touchdown this season and also blocked three kicks.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Gamecocks looked like they were limping to the finish for the third straight year until the regular-season finale. They’d lost three in a row, but pounded arch-rival Clemson 34-17 in their most complete performance of the season. Granted, it’s been more than a month since that game, but can the Gamecocks build off that momentum and get back to that level against the Huskies? Steve Spurrier has promised that the Gamecocks will be more focused for this bowl game than they were a year ago in the Outback Bowl when they played miserably.

WHY TO WATCH: A lot can happen between now and next season. But you get the feeling that if Spurrier is ever going to make a move in the Eastern Division at South Carolina, he better do it next season. The Gamecocks have a lot of young talent in the program, and beating Connecticut in the bowl game and getting to eight wins would set up what would certainly be an offseason of great anticipation in Columbia.

PREDICTION: One of the most underrated stories in the SEC this season was how much South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia improved. He still has to take that next step to be the kind of quarterback the Head Ball Coach wants him to be, but he played winning football most of the season. As bad as Garcia was in last year’s bowl game, he’ll be just as good in this one. That and another solid performance from Ellis Johnson’s defense will be enough to send the Gamecocks to only their fifth bowl win in school history. South Carolina 24, Connecticut 17.