After missing a bowl game for the first time in seven years, first year head coach Will Muschamp already has South Carolina playing in the postseason once again; this time, it’s in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29th at 2:00 PM in Birmingham, Alabama against South Florida. Here are the three keys to the game for Carolina.
Keep Quinton Flowers in the Pocket
The biggest thing the Gamecock defense must do is contain USF’s dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers. He leads the team in rushing with 1,425 yards on the ground and 15 TDs and is averaging 8.1 YPC. He should be the main focus considering that, along with his rushing abilities, he’s a tremendous passer as well. Flowers has completed 184-299 passes (61.5%) for 2,551 yards, 22 scores and six interceptions. The Bulls’ main offense is definitely the run game as they have an additional 1,000 yard rusher in Marlon Mack (1,137 yards & 15 TDs) and a strong secondary back in D’Ernest Johnson (516 yards & 8 TDs) who turned some heads with his play early on in the season when Mack was inured.
My take: Flowers may not be an air-raid quarterback, but he’s very efficient and can also rack up statistics with his legs. It’s critical for South Carolina to make sure they keep him in the pocket (and throwing the ball) at all costs to limit the nation’s 5th best rushing attack.
Find the End Zone
South Florida is putting up 42.5 PPG, which is eighth best in the nation and first in the AAC. Even with a relatively strong defense, South Carolina must put up points and relieve some of that pressure. Here’s the frightening statistic: they are only averaging 17 points per contest (121st in the nation). However, the good news is that the Bulls rank in the bottom 10 in total defense, giving up almost 500 yards per game...yes, 500.
My take: If South Florida is scoring like they have all season, it will be tough for Carolina to hang with them, but not impossible. They must capitalize and avoid costly mistakes.
Get Bentley and Dowdle Going Early
There is no doubt that the future for the South Carolina offense looks tremendously bright, but for now their top performers are still freshmen. Excluding the season finale against Clemson, freshman quarterback Jake Bentley has been huge in the second half of the season. He has thrown for 1,030 yards (93-147, 63.3% completion) and six TDs with two interceptions for a team who struggled to find their starting quarterback for the majority of year. Fellow freshman, running back Rico Dowdle, has also stepped up in the latter part of the year with 714 yards on 121 carries for six scores. He has topped the 100 yard mark in three of the past five games.
My take: Even though Jake Bentley and Rico Dowdle played very well throughout the last six games, bowl games are a different story. Going up against one of the nation’s top offenses, it’s key that Muschamp gets his going early, to install confidence in the underclassmen.