Wisconsin to meet Clowney, South Carolina
MADISON—Sunday brought the best possible scenario for Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen and his players, particularly the members of a senior class that have experienced bowl losses for three consecutive years.
Despite suffering a humbling loss in their regular-season finale, the 19th-ranked Badgers were given an opportunity to face a top-10 team that has beaten two teams headed to BCS bowls and hails from the Southeastern Conference.
“Anytime you look at the SEC for the past decade or so, they’ve been the measuring stick,” said UW senior safety Dezmen Southward, who recently had a medical procedure on his left wrist to fix a nagging injury but will be ready to practice. “Obviously to play a team like South Carolina you get a chance to measure up and see what the big-time conferences are like against each other.
“I think that is something you have to be excited for.”
The Gamecocks finished 6-2 in the SEC, good for second place behind Missouri in the East Division. Led by Spurrier, 76-39 in his nine seasons at the school, the Gamecocks have been ranked for a school-record 63 consecutive weeks in The Associated Press top 25.
“We’re getting a good Wisconsin team,” Spurrier said. “They had a 9-3 record and could have won all three of their losses.”
South Carolina suffered a 41-30 loss at then-No. 11 Georgia in Week 2 and stumbled at Tennessee, 23-21, in Week 8, when quarterback Connor Shaw was sidelined by a knee injury late in the game.
The Gamecocks finished strong, however, by winning their final five games. That run included a 27-24 victory in two overtimes over host Missouri, which won the SEC East and lost to Auburn Saturday in the SEC title game. They have victories over two BCS teams—Clemson and Central Florida—and are trying to win 11 games for the third consecutive season.
“You play in the conference they play in and to get 10 wins at this point is something special,” Andersen said. “I think we all strive at the beginning of the year and fight through the year to get a BCS game and that’s very difficult to do. We’ve got nine wins and now we’re going to go play a team with 10 wins. It’s a tremendous matchup. Tremendous challenge for both teams, I believe.
“And they both have shown that they’re very capable of playing at a very high level week in week out throughout the season. But it’s a great bowl game for us for so many reasons.”
South Carolina features playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Shaw has completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,135 yards and 21 touchdowns. He has just one interception in 259 attempts. Shaw is also second on the team in rushing with 511 yards and five touchdowns. Tailback Mike Davis leads the team in rushing with 1,134 yards, a 5.8-yard average and 11 touchdowns.
South Carolina is tied for 20th nationally in scoring defense (20.0 ppg).
Although junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the most recognizable player on the unit, he has not been the most productive player this season. Clowney has three sacks, eight hurries and 10½ tackles for loss. By contrast, junior defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles has 9½ sacks and 13½ tackles for loss.
“They have more than just him,” senior tight end Brian Wozniak said when asked about Clowney. “It will be a good challenge.”
UW’s challenge for the last three seasons was to win the Rose Bowl. Each time, UW left the field in defeat.
“We have a really talented senior class that’s had a lot of wins over the past four, five years,” said nose guard Beau Allen, a fifth-year senior. “But we’ve failed to get it done in the postseason. We know that. We want to go out on top.”