The 19th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks take on No. 21 Notre Dame tomorrow afternoon for the Gator Bowl crown, seeking to punctuate a strong finish to the regular season with another big bowl victory under coach Shane Beamer. Both the Gamecocks and the Irish will be short-handed, with key stars either transferred or sitting out, so the squads will no doubt look and play a bit different. Nonetheless, it’s a tough matchup against a juicy opponent, and an opportunity to make it three in a row against ranked foes. Here are a few things I’ll be watching for.
Keep the offensive momentum going. A lot of things have obviously been going right for the Gamecocks, who are coming off back-to-back wins over top-10 teams, but the offense is chief among them. It took much of the season, but quarterback Spencer Rattler has found his rhythm, and playmakers are stepping up all over the roster (Nate Adkins, anyone?). The Gamecocks will have to hope that trend continues, as stars like MarShawn Lloyd and Jaheim Bell are no longer with the team, so the familiar specter of offensive woes could come back to haunt if South Carolina can’t adjust to using the personnel it now has.
Have a plan for Tyler Buchner. The Gamecocks have historically struggled to contain athletic dual-threat quarterbacks, and that’s exactly what Buchner brings to the table. Buchner, who started the first two games of the year for the Irish before going down with a shoulder injury that was initially thought to be season ending, will be taking his first live snaps in a few months tomorrow. If he’s rusty and gets off to a slow start, that can only help South Carolina in its efforts to contain him, but the Gamecocks need to be ready in case he’s sharp and has the Notre Dame offense clicking from the word go.
Continue excelling on special teams against an opponent that’s really good at it, too. I know it’s a little trite to say “Hey, keep being good at the things you’re good at,” but South Carolina has one of the top special teams units in the country and it’s been a legitimate difference-maker in getting USC to its eight wins. Big plays in this phase of the game are hard to count on, but the Gamecocks have been remarkably consistent in dialing them up. The challenge is that the Irish have something of a knack of their own — Notre Dame leads the nation in blocked punts (7) and in net field position, so the battle to get an edge here could be fierce.