For most of the season, opposing defenses have played zone pass coverage against South Carolina as they tried to limit junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. It worked at times. Jeffery had just 45 catches for 614 yards and seven touchdowns. Last season, he had 88 catches for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns.
In today's Capital One Bowl against Nebraska, Jeffery and USC's wide receivers should get a chance to win their one-on-one matchups and make plays, because Nebraska often uses man-to-man coverage. The Cornhuskers do it well. They rank No. 18 nationally with 189.1 passing yards allowed per game. Alfonzo Dennard is one of the country's best cornerbacks.
"They're hanging with you," said USC coach Steve Spurrier. "You don't get guys wide open. So if we're going to get some guys open, they've got to run good routes, and they've got to put their foot on the ground and get some separation."
USC hasn't thrown the ball as often this year as last, as first-year starting quarterback Connor Shaw develops as a pocket passer. The Gamecocks pass 36.9 percent of the time this year, compared to 42.7 percent last season.
"Some of the SEC schools like to sit back in the zone, especially since our passing game hasn't been as successful," said USC sophomore receiver Ace Sanders, whose 26 catches for 338 yards rank second on the team behind Jeffery.
Sanders said the opportunities for plays "should be there" today and "we've got to make them when they're there."
Spurrier said Sunday that free safety D.J. Swearinger will start today and "go as long as he can." Swearinger has a nagging stress fracture in his foot and was limited in practices leading up to the bowl.
"He's had three or four weeks to help it heal up a bit," Spurrier said.
Spurrier also said Kyle Nunn will start at left tackle. Nunn hasn't played since Sept. 24 against Vanderbilt because of back surgery and a blood clot in his leg.
"I don't know how good his stamina and his conditioning will be, but he'll go as long as he can," Spurrier said.
Right guard Terrence Campbell remains doubtful because of a broken leg, which is why Nunn is back in the lineup.
"Whether or not he can play a series or two, we'll just have to wait and see," Spurrier said.
Why Spurrier calls plays
Spurrier talked Sunday about why he calls USC's offensive plays.
"It's always surprising to me that if a guy was an offensive coordinator as an assistant coach and then he gets a head job, why doesn't he continue doing that?" he said. "But several of them don't.
"I always figured I got to be a head coach for one reason: the offenses that we had at Duke in '81 and '82 (when he was the offensive coordinator) were pretty good. If I could hire somebody that I thought was better at doing it than I could, then I would do that. If it goes bad, I want it on me. I don't want to blame the assistant coach."
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini used to be LSU's defensive coordinator. He calls Nebraska's defense. Pelini is from Youngstown, Ohio, as are the Stoops brothers (Bob, Mike and Mark), who are some of college football's sharpest defensive coaches. Spurrier know the Stoops brothers well.
Said Spurrier: "I was talking to my wife. I said, 'You know, all the Stoops brothers and Bo, they're all defensive coaches. I don't know if they teach offensive ball up there in Youngstown.' "