While the South Carolina Gamecocks missed out on the BCS this season, they’ll still have a major challenge on their hands this bowl season when they take on the Wisconsin Badgers in the Capital One Bowl. The Badgers bring a running game that is among the best in the country this season and will test South Carolina in ways that they have not been tested this season. How well they respond to that test and keep the Wisconsin running game contained will determine how the Gamecocks fare in this one.
South Carolina put together a strong season on defense in 2013 and ranked second in the SEC against the run, allowing 142.25 yards per game on the ground. However, that puts them at just No. 32 in the nation in rush defense (thanks to a down year for SEC rush defenses) which is okay but far from great. Wisconsin’s running game is great, ranking No. 8 in the nation this season as they average 283 yards per game on the ground. They boast three running backs who average over six yards per carry and two who rushed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
That could be a problem for South Carolina who have looked vulnerable against the run at times this season. Three times, the Gamecocks have allowed 200 yards or more in a game (Georgia Bulldogs – 227; Arkansas Razorbacks – 218; Florida Gators – 200) and allowed Arkansas to gash them to the tune of 9.08 yards per carry. Melvin Gordon has averaged 8.10 yards per carry this season for Wisconsin, second highest among running backs with 100 carries or more, and has shown that he can explode through creases in the defense and find the endzone. If South Carolina leaves running lanes open like they did against Arkansas, they’ll be in for a very long day.
If South Carolina hopes to finish this season with a bowl win and create some momentum heading into 2014 as they attempt to turn over their roster at several key positions, they have to tighten things up in their run defense. If lanes open up, Wisconsin will find them and take advantage. Can the Gamecocks’ defensive front rise to the challenge?