Previewing the Papa John's Bowl: Three Keys, What It Means, and Prediction

Bowl game time is here, and with it comes this season's final installment in game previews. Here are my thoughts on our matchup with the UConn Huskies.

1. Can Stephen Garcia get over the memory of last year's bowl game? After last year's debacle in the Outback Bowl, all eyes will be on Garcia, whose utterly forgettable performance in Tampa defeated any hopes the Gamecocks had of upsetting Iowa. Garcia has transcended

2. Can we slow down the run? The Huskies have a solid power running game and will hope that it along with their no-huddle playcalling scheme will help them eventually wear our defense out. It will be key, then, that our defense get off the field quickly early in the game, because if it doesn't, late in the game we'll likely see what we saw against teams like Ole Miss and Alabama that gashed us on the ground in the final quarter. Hopefully the month off will give our guys in the middle the stamina they need to shut down UConn's backs.

3. Can we convert on scoring chances? UConn in general has a fairly porous defense, and I expect we'll find lots of ways to move the ball, particularly through the air against one of the country's worst pass defenses. However, moving the ball hasn't always been enough for the Gamecocks, as we've seen several performances in which we've rolled up lots of yards without scoring. That seemed to change, though, in the final two games, in which we did a better job of converting on scoring opportunities. We need more of the same here.

What It Means

First of all, winning this game will get us to eight wins, which many of us said was the baseline for success coming into the season. Getting there will mean the year wasn't a failure, and it will give us some momentum going into recruiting. Moreover, like fans of any BCS-conference team in a minor bowl game, particularly given all we have coming back next season, what we want to see in this game is a positive indication of things to come. A win, especially a convincing one, will give us lots of momentum going into next season, including, I believe, a preseason ranking between 15-20.

Prediction

I think this game will feature a fair bit of offense from the get-go, with us moving the ball around in a variety of ways and the Huskies churning yards on the ground. At the end of the day, though, I think we have a more talented, deeper defense than UConn, and whille I'm sure we'll be stiffly challenged, I think we're going to come up with key stops when we need them. UConn, on the other hand, has no answer for our passing game due to a weak secondary, and we should be able to run it well, too. I expect that UConn's defense will be the one that gets worn out late, which is the opposite of what they want to see happen. This one will be close for a while, but I believe we'll control it in the second half. 37-20 'Cocks.

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