Gamecocks defense has 'statement to make to the nation' in Capital One Bowl
COLUMBIA - Steve Spurrier didn't need the first snippets of Wisconsin's game film to reveal his defense's biggest challenge in the Capital One Bowl.
The Badgers are synonymous with running the football, personifying the rugged, ground-and-pound style perhaps more than any team in the country. The names from their past are a royal lineage of ball carriers - Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, Heisman finalist Montee Ball, All-American Anthony Davis.
Each is among the Big Ten's top 10 career rushers, making Wisconsin the only school with three players on that list.
"That's what Big Ten football is all about," USC's All-American defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said. "Big, physical guys coming off the ball, and let's (run over) people. That's what they're known for. . We're ready for it. We play teams that run the ball week in and week out."
With Wisconsin, the names change every few years. The reputation never wavers. Once again, the Badgers boast a powerful rushing attack, ranked eighth in the country. Sophomore Melvin Gordon (1,466) and senior James White (1,337) are the only teammates in the nation with more than 1,300 rushing yards.
South Carolina knows what's coming. Earlier this month, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said his team would "do what we do." That means run the football with force and conviction, presumably down a defense's throat.
"I think it is a great matchup," Andersen said. "The front sevens on both sides, offensively and defensively for us and them, this is going to be a very highly contested, physical football game."
No matchup will be more important than Wisconsin's rushing attack against South Carolina's "run defense pants," as Spurrier called it. Most expect that edge to go to the Badgers, who averaged 283 rushing yards per game this season. Not coincidentally, Wisconsin remained a 1-point favorite over South Carolina entering the weekend.
South Carolina's underdog status wasn't lost on Spurrier when his team arrived in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday.
"We've got to play well if we expect to beat Wisconsin," Spurrier said. ". Heck, they're favored over us. So, I guess if we beat them, it's going to be an upset."
There is a perception with Wisconsin's running game, justifiably so. Quarles said the Badgers remind him of LSU, which ran for 258 yards in a win over the Gamecocks last season. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said Wisconsin reminds him of Arkansas, which makes sense because first-year Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema formerly held the same position with the Badgers.
In reality, the numbers indicate a closer matchup than some expect.
The Gamecocks rank second in the SEC in run defense, allowing 142.25 rushing yards per game. That's behind first-place Alabama (108.33 yards per game) and similar to third-place Florida (142.42 per game), which were considered the top two rushing defenses in the SEC throughout the season.
While the defensive line hasn't been as effective rushing the passer, the front seven has more than held its own on the ground. USC's defense has mostly played behind the line of scrimmage, ranking third in the SEC with 83 tackles for loss.
Yet, this month, South Carolina has only heard about Wisconsin's capabilities. Freshman linebacker Skai Moore made no secret his defense wants to make a statement against the Badgers.
"Since they have that reputation of smash-mouth football, we definitely have something to prove that we're just going to take care of business and not let them come in here and run all over us," Moore said. "It's definitely a statement to make to the nation."