Big Ten bowl preview: Spotlight on offense for Badgers, Gamecocks

Big Ten bowl preview: Spotlight on offense for Badgers, Gamecocks
December 31, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Vinnie Duber

The Big Ten. The SEC. Offensive fireworks.

It used to be that the follow up to that list would be: "One of these things is not like the others." Heck, you might even expect it to be part of a Carnac the Magnificent bit. But instead, these days, those three things are all one in the same.

It's especially true in this year's Capital One Bowl matchup, one of three bowl games pitting the two conferences against each other. Down in Orlando, it'll be Wisconsin and South Carolina getting together, and while both teams boast strong defenses as well, it's the offenses that figure to be taking center stage come Wednesday.

"I see great athletes. I see an offense that can go from a power run game to a spread attack. I see an offense that can change plays based upon the defensive structure. I see an offense that can go wildcat, that can go on balance as a sweep, quarterback run game, as an empty throw game. Any of these things where if you do not stop it, then they'll live in that," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said at a Monday press conference. "And so there's a bunch of those things, a bunch of tributaries that you're going to have to put a stop to it. And then the thing that's striking is about the offense is the quarterback. He runs it. He is the heartbeat of it. And he's the guy that we're going to have to try and stop."

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The Gamecocks have certainly had a potent offense this season, scoring 34.1 points per game (31st in the country) on 453.5 yards per game (34th in the country). Quarterback Connor Shaw has particularly impressed, remarkably throwing just one interception in 259 passing attempts. Running back Mike Davis also had a strong season, rushing for 1,134 yards.

Wisconsin's defense has the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in linebacker Chris Borland, but even he is concerned about the playmaking ability of Shaw and the rest of South Carolina's weapons.

"To go off of that, I think they've got a lot of depth. There's players all over the field. You really can't afford to overlook one single guy," Borland said Monday. "They've got tight ends, receivers. Their back runs really hard and has a good line. But, again, I think Shaw is really what makes it go. So they're really a dynamic, impressive offense, but it all starts with the quarterback."

South Carolina might be the No. 9 team in the country, one that was a game away from playing in the SEC championship game, but Wisconsin could very well have the edge on the offensive side of the ball, the one where the focus will be Wednesday.

In typical Badger fashion, it all starts with the rushing attack, and this year was no exception, as a pair of Wisconsin backs — Melvin Gordon and James White — ranked second and third in the conference in rushing. Combined, they racked up 2,803 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground. But it's not just the running game. Quarterback Joel Stave made plays when he needed to all year long, mainly thanks to wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, one of the best at his position in the Big Ten.

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In fact, perhaps a shift to a more pass-heavy attack in the season finale against Penn State is what cost the Badgers the game and a potential trip to a BCS bowl. Expect Wisconsin to dance with the date that brought 'em in the Capital One Bowl.

"We're going to play to our strength. We're a run, play-action team. That's the way we're built. So we're going to go into the game with that mindset. I don't think there's any surprise there," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said Monday. "So the key thing is first-down efficiency and, you know, being — making positive games in the run game and then using the play action to keep the secondary honest and keep the safeties backed off. So we've got away from that a little bit here in the last couple games, and we're anxious to get back to it."

So, though you might be remembering Jadeveon Clowney's massive hit from a year ago that vaulted the Gamecocks defensive lineman to stardom or perhaps reading the deservedly glowing reviews of Borland's play, this game is going to be about the playmakers on the other side of the ball: quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.

This isn't your grandfather's Big Ten, and it isn't his SEC either.

No. 19 Wisconsin and No. 9 South Carolina kick off in the Capital One Bowl at 12 p.m. Wednesday.