The Capital One Bowl turned out to be the 2011 South Carolina Gamecocks in microcosm: it wasn't pretty, and in fact it was somewhat infuriating for Gamecocks fans at times, but, in the end, the results were clearly impressive. The Gamecocks, known for lackluster bowl performances, bucked the trend and beat a tough Nebraska Cornhuskers team by a score of 30-13, out-gaining the Huskers by almost 100 yards in the process.
The game's stars for the Gamecocks were Alshon Jeffery, whose over 100 yards included a momentum-swinging hail mary reception to end the first half, Connor Shaw, who racked up a 200+ passer rating; didn't turn the ball over; and made some nice runs, and the Gamecocks defensive line, which dominated the second half and registered six sacks. Kenny Miles (two TDs) and Stephon Gilmore (one INT and an XP returned for a two-point conversion) are among other players who deserve shout outs. These fairly impressive statistics belie the fact that the Gamecocks were a bit slow out of the gate. In the first half, our defense struggled with the Nebraska running game, and our offense, despite mounting one good drive and utilizing Jeffery for two big plays, was somewhat dysfunctional. Special teams were a nightmare throughout.
In addition to the big plays that allowed us to go into the half with a lead we probably didn't deserve, the story of the game was the defense coming together in the second half. After failing to contain the option early on, the defense played extremely well in the second half. Nebraska began the half by driving down the field, the last positive play on the drive being a long run by Taylor Martinez to set the Huskers up with 1st-and-goal. After that play, which didn't lead to any points after the Gamecocks pushed the Huskers back and Nebraska's kicker missed a short field goal, the Gamecocks held the Huskers to only a single yard of total offense for the remainder of the game. Yes, you read that correctly: after Nebraska's opening-half drive, we allowed them only a single yard of total offense for the rest of the half. The defensive line keyed the charge, dominating the line of scrimmage, scaring Nebraska's offensive line into numerous penalties, and tossing Martinez around like a rag doll. The offense played well in the second half, too, but at least part of its success owed to the fact that Nebraska's defense was on the field more or less the entire half and was clearly unable to handle our running game late.
We'll be switching over to more hoops coverage this week, but I'll have much more to say over the next few weeks in terms of evaluating the football season as a whole. For now, suffice it to say that this victory puts a very positive end on one of the best, if not the best, season in Carolina history. This was a plum bowl bid for the Gamecocks, and we played a high-quality team. To win convincingly in this situation, even though we probably didn't play our absolute best football, says tons about the progress this program has made. If we had lost the game, you would likely have heard a lot of skeptics dismiss a ten-win season as a product of a weak SEC East. A bowl rout over a good OOC foe says otherwise: this is an excellent Carolina team that deserves its bowl trophy and postseason top-ten ranking. Moreover, with a solid nucleus of young players returning and a nice recruiting class in the works, we have every reason to believe that next season will bring more success. It took him a few years, but Spurrier has this program right where it needs to be. It's a good time to be a Gamecock, folks.