2010 PapaJohns.com Bowl - S. Car. vs. UConn
USC QB Stephen Garcia & UConn RB Andre Dixon
USC QB Stephen Garcia & UConn RB Andre Dixon
Posted Dec 29, 2009

The CFN 2010 PapaJohns.com Bowl - South Carolina vs. Connecticut

2010 PapaJohns.com Bowl

South Carolina (7-5) vs. Connecticut (7-5)

Birmingham, AL, Jan. 2, 2 pm, ESPN

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Team Pages and 2009 Season
South CarolinaConnecticut 


- 2008 CFN PapaJohns.com Bowl Preview
- 2007 CFN PapaJohns.com Bowl Preview
- 2006 CFN PapaJohns.com Bowl Preview
National Rankings
C   SC
47th Total Offense 76th
72nd Total Defense 15th
23rd Scoring Offense 96th
60th Scoring Defense 22nd
41st Rushing Offense 91st
48th Run Defense 46th
46th Passing Offense 43rd
94th Passing Defense 12th
54th Turnover Margin 75th
Position Ratings
relative to each other
C 5 highest
1 lowest
3.5 Quarterbacks 4
4 RBs 2.5
3 Receivers 4
3.5 O Line 2
3 D Line 3.5
4 Linebackers 4
2 Secondary 5
3 Spec Teams 3.5
4.5 Coaching 4.5
PapaJohns.com Bowl History
2008 Rutgers, 29, NC State 23

2007 Cincinnati 31, Southern Miss 21

2006 South Florida 24, East Carolina 7

In the first meeting in history between South Carolina and Connecticut, the school's respective head coaches are going to be the biggest headliners in Birmingham.

If you enjoy chess matches between accomplished coaches, this game might be right up your alley. Steve Spurrier vs. Randy Edsall pits two of the game's better minds and motivators against each other in a battle to see which school can pick up win No. 8 and carry a positive vibe into the offseason. Sure, Spurrier hasn't brought the Gamecocks an SEC championship in his five seasons in Columbia, but he's still one of the craftiest coaches around and, at worst, good for a memorable quote or two during a press conference. While perennially competitive, South Carolina just hasn't been able to break through under Spurrier, losing at least five games and finishing no better than second place in the East Division since his ballyhooed arrival. This season was more of the same.

Using a mix of veterans and unproven underclassmen, the ‘Cocks were short on consistency from the opening weekend, especially when they had the ball. In their last four losses to Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Florida, for example, they produced an average of only 12 points a game. The defense was good, but not good enough to overcome that kind of futility. Still, despite the persistent mediocrity, there is a feeling of optimism surrounding the program. South Carolina used a slew of talented kids in the fall, continues to recruit well, and wrapped up the regular season with a complete effort over rival Clemson. If Spurrier has one more SEC title run left in him, it could begin Saturday at Legion Field, eight months before the start of the 2010 campaign.

To say that Edsall endured the most emotional season of his head coaching career would be a gross understatement. Well beyond all of the close games and disappointing losses, Connecticut was forced to navigate the Oct. 18 murder of starting CB Jasper Howard without any blueprint or protocol. As gifted as Edsall is as a head coach, it paled in comparison to his ability to guide the Husky family with the grace and steady hand of a father figure. That the program was able to bounce back and honor its teammate with a strong finish and a third straight bowl invitation is a testament to Edsall and the staff he's assembled in Storrs.

On the field was a rollercoaster ride of a different kind for the Huskies, which participated in an incredible nine games that were decided by eight points or fewer. For a while, Connecticut couldn't catch a break in these nail-biters, but finally broke through on Nov. 21 and defeated Notre Dame in double-overtime for one of the most important wins in school history. From there, it ambushed Syracuse and rallied to beat South Florida, 29-27, to cap this most chaotic regular season with a character-building three-game winning streak. A win over an SEC opponent, and a first over a non-MAC team in a bowl game, would be a fitting end for a program that showed a ton of heart throughout some difficult circumstances.

Players to Watch: There might be a better backfield tandem in the country than Connecticut's Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon. Just don't try convincing Edsall. He's watched his two features backs go for 1,152 yards and 967 yards, respectively. An ideal complement of fresh legs and non-stop north-south running, they can be relentless on opposing defenses. On the other side of the ball, South Carolina has a grown-up unit that's capable of handing the Huskies their toughest challenge of the year. LB Eric Norwood, in particular, is going to provide a rude awakening. One of the most disruptive defenders in the country, he has a tendency to take over spotlight games with his ability to defend the run and rush the passer. An All-SEC first team selection, Norwood has a team-high seven sacks.

While neither team is known for its passing attack, both have wide receivers that flourished late and must be accounted for at all times. One of the prime examples of the youth movement in Columbia, true freshman Alshon Jeffery has caught 43 passes for 735 yards and six touchdowns, most coming in the final seven games. A huge target, with a knack for making acrobatic grabs, he's become the go-to guy for erratic QB Stephen Garcia. For the Huskies, Marcus Easley has evolved into the biggest surprise of the season. Despite entering the year with only five career catches and no guarantee of a starting job, he's made 44 grabs for 853 yards and eight scores. A former walk-on, he has the 6-2, 216-pound frame to cause problems for corners Stephon Gilmore and Akeem Auguste, and a very young South Carolina secondary.

South Carolina has long had issues along the offensive line, ranking 104th nationally in sacks allowed and paving the way for the SEC's worst running games. The situation won't get any better against Connecticut. Even without starting LB Greg Lloyd, who's out with a knee injury, the Huskies have an underrated front seven capable of applying pressure on Garcia and keeping RB Kenny Miles in check. The Gamecocks' biggest concern will be keeping DE Lindsey Witten out of the pocket. With his first chance to play a full-time role, the senior has racked up a Big East-best 11.5 sacks and plenty of interest from NFL scouts. If he gets contained with double-teams, DT Twyon Martin can be dangerous from the inside and LB Lawrence Wilson is always liable to come charging through on the blitz.

Connecticut will win if ... : if Zach Frazer picks up where he left off at the end of the regular season. It was one of the better-kept secrets of 2009 in the Big East, but Joe Moorhead's offense averaged 32 points a game, a stark contrast to recent seasons. Once futile, the Huskies are finally enjoying a degree of balance, ranking 41st nationally on the ground and 46th through the air. Now, Todman and Dixon are clearly the catalysts, but the evolution of Frazer is an overlooked reason why Connecticut averaged 41 points over the final four games. During that stretch, he threw six touchdown passes and only two picks, making it impractical for defenses to load up to stop the running game. In order to put a dent in a quality SEC defense, like South Carolina, there has to be an element of unpredictability in the gameplan. If Frazer can't provide it, Todman and Dixon will have trouble locating the soft spots in the Gamecock D.

South Carolina will win if ... : PK Spencer Lanning attempts more extra points than field goals. Put differently, the Gamecocks need to convert more of their red zone chances into touchdowns, a problem throughout the regular season. The Connecticut defense has been more generous than in recent years, and it'll be up to the South Carolina offense to take advantage. Garcia needs to play the way he did in the finale with Clemson, resisting the temptation to force throws and occasionally hurting the Husky D with his quick feet and athleticism outside the pocket. It's not as if he's completely void of playmakers around him. Jeffery, Moe Brown, and Tori Gurley have come a long way this fall, and Miles and Brian Maddox can pick up yards on the ground if the blockers do their jobs. Oh, and the linebackers better not lose sight of Weslye Saunders, the behemoth tight end who's a natural fit in the red zone.

What will happen: South Carolina and Connecticut are accustomed to nip-and-tuck games, so why should this one be any different? The Huskies have enough talent in the running game and resiliency to give the Gamecocks all they can handle on Saturday. However, USC is peaking at the right time, and with time to prepare, isn't about to squander that head of steam in Birmingham. While it might get muted at times in the face of a rugged SEC schedule, South Carolina has amassed a nice collection of athletes on both sides of the ball. And many of those freshmen, who were a little lost in September, are beginning to perform like upperclassmen. Garcia will pick up where he left off in the Clemson game, playing smart and accounting for a pair of pivotal touchdowns. The defense will take care of the rest, using its sideline-to-sideline speed to limit the big play and cut off passing lanes for Frazer. Connecticut will play well, but for the sixth time this year, will lose a game by six points or less.

CFN Prediction: South Carolina 26 … Connecticut 20 ... Line: South Carolina -4.5

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Best Gamecock Bowl Moment: South Carolina has won four of its last six bowl games, the only four postseason victories in school history. In the 2002 Outback Bowl, the Gamecocks allowed Ohio State to rally from a 28-point deficit before Daniel Weaver booted a game-winning 42-yard field goal for a sigh-of-relief victory. It was South Carolina's second straight win over the Buckeyes in Tampa and a symbol of just how far the program had progressed under Lou Holtz.

Best Husky Bowl Moment:
Connecticut's first bowl invitation was a stepping stone moment for a young program that hadn't been competing in I-A very long. Just three years after elevating from I-AA, the Huskies pounded Toledo in the 2004 Motor City Bowl, 39-10, behind the passing of star QB Dan Orlovsky and the play of an opportunistic and unheralded defense.

Connecticut Bowl History (2-1)
2008 Internat'l UConn 38, Buffalo 20
2007 Meineke Car Care Wake Forest 24, UConn 10
2004 Motor City UConn 39, Toledo 10
South Carolina Bowl History (4-10)
2008 Outback Iowa 31, South Carolina 10
2006 Liberty South Carolina 44, Houston 36
2005 Independence Missouri 38, South Carolina 31
2001 Outback South Carolina 31, Ohio State 28
2000 Outback South Carolina 24, Ohio State 7
1995 Carquest South Carolina 24, West Virginia 21
1988 Liberty Indiana 34, South Carolina 10
1987 Gator Louisiana State 30, South Carolina 13
1984 Gator Oklahoma 21, South Carolina 14
1980 Gator Pittsburgh 37, South Carolina 9
1979 Hall of Fame Missouri 24, South Carolina 14
1975 Tangerine Miami (Ohio) 20, South Carolnia 7
1969 Peach West Virginia 14, South Carolina 3
1945 Gator Wake Forest 26, South Carolina 14