Iowa offense vs. South Carolina defense
First-year South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has seen high-powered, quality running backs.
Here’s the list just from the past couple seasons in the SEC, Darren McFadden, Peyton Hillis, Felix Jones, Knowshon Moreno, Charles Scott, C.J. Spiller, James Davis, Steve Slaton, Percy Harvin and Kevin Smith.
Iowa’s Shonn Greene is next. The Doak Walker Award winner will take his best-every season for an Iowa running back (1,729 yards, 17 rush TDs) and throw it at a Gamecocks’ defense that ranked 11th in the nation in total defense, allowing just 288.92 yards a game.
Johnson brought a 4-2-5 defense (using an extra DB as more of a linebacker) to Carolina this season and it’s been a success. The Gamecocks rank in the top 40 in every defensive category, including a No. 3 in pass efficiency defense (110.05).
In mid-December, Johnson said Carolina would junk their defensive scheme and to with a traditional 4-3 for today’s Outback Bowl, with designs on stopping, or slowing, Greene.
The defensive back playing more like a linebacker was junior Darian Stewart. He’ll switch to safety to take over for Emanuel Cook, who was ruled academically ineligible for the bowl. Cook was one of the Gamecocks’ top tacklers.
Senior Marvin Sapp will step in at outside linebacker with Eric Norwood, one of Carolina’s most productive defenders. Norwood is the school’s career leader in tackles for loss with 42. He’s third on the sacks list with 22, needing four more to catch leader Andrew Provence. Jasper Brinkley will play middle linebacker.
“We’re just going to play three linebackers, a 4-3 scheme, and go on with it,” Johnson said. “That will probably be good for Iowa because they’re so big and strong
Only two players rushed for 100 yards against the Gamecocks this season. One of those was Harvin, and he had an 80-yard run for a touchdown. The other was North Carolina State’s Andre Brown, who had 101 yards in the opener. Greene has rushed for 100 yards in all 12 games.
So, this leaves Iowa guessing.
“They were a pretty strong 3-4 team previously,” Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said. “I don’t know if they’ll use that our not. They said that (about switching to a 4-3) about three weeks ago now. So, they could’ve decided it wasn’t working and could be back to something else for all we know.”
The first quarter today is going to be a scouting report, sort of the way the first quarter of the Minnesota game was. There, QB Ricky Stanzi was blitzed repeatedly. He avoided the major mistake but did use all three of Iowa’s timeouts during a 3-0 first quarter.
Iowa adjusted and, more importantly, Stanzi found his bearings. When Stanzi didn’t — see Michigan State and Northwestern — Iowa lost. His experience and confidence have come together.
Iowa defense vs. South Carolina offense
Carolina’s offense has been fitful this season. The Gamecocks average 316.83 yards a game, 97th in Football Bowl Subdivision. The rush offense was the worst in the SEC and 108th in the country, averaging just 98.33 yards a game and 2.93 a carry.
The offensive line has been the problem and, after the season, O-line coach John Hunt paid with his job. The unit is way inexperienced.
Left tackle Jarriel King is a converted junior college defensive lineman in his first season. Left guard Jamon Meredith has 30 career starts at tackle and seven at his current spot. Right guard Terrence Campbell is a former D-lineman making the conversion. He’s started eight of the last nine games.
Center Garrett Anderson and right tackle Justin Sorensen are the veterans with 50 career starts between them. Sorensen, a 6-7, 316-pounder, was the fifth selection in last year’s Canadian Football League draft.
The Gamecocks have produced just one 100-yard rushing effort this season, with Mike Davis going for 101 yards in the opener against N.C. State. In their last two games, 56-6 loss to Florida and 31-14 loss to Clemson, the Gamecocks rushed for 53 and 92 yards, respectively.
“We’ve got the size. We’ve got the strength. We’ve got the speed,” he said. “I just think we’ve got to put our minds to it that we’re going to go out there and we’re going to play however long we’ve got to play.”
Quarterback Stephen Garcia, a Tampa native, is a wildcard of sorts for this game. He’s 1-1 as the starter, but coach Steve Spurrier named him the starter for the bowl game shortly after the end of the season. His career highs are 14 completions, 26 attempts and 215 yards.
“He’s a mobile guy,” Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker said. “He runs around a little bit probably more than the other guy. So, I think getting out of the pocket and running around a little bit, he might do more of that.”
Wide receiver Kenny McKinley is SC’s all-time leading receiver with 201 receptions and 2,695 receiving yards. He also has a record 42 consecutive games with a catch. Tight end Jared Cook caught 35 passes for 550 yards and two TDs this year. South Carolina reporters were asking him this week if he was going to go early to the NFL.
Iowa’s defense, which has allowed just one 100-yard rusher all season, will have a pair of injured shoulders in the lineup. Linebacker A.J. Edds and safety Brett Greenwood are nursing shoulder injuries. This week, Ferentz said they’ll both play.
SC’s Ryan Succop earned honorable mention all-SEC after connecting on 19 of 28 field goals this season. The senior is No. 2 on SC’s career field goal list with 48. His 28 field goal attempts this year rank No. 2 in the nation, behind East Carolina’s Ben Hartman. The Gamecocks rank 26th in the nation with 23.2 yards a kick return.
Iowa’s punt unit finished 20th in the country with 39.7 yards a punt. Kicker Daniel Murray, who’ll get the start, has made four straight field goals. Wide receiver Andy Brodell is 31st in the nation with 10.6 yards a punt return. Running back Jewel Hampton has settled in nicely on kick returns, averaging 23.0 yards. Super special teamer Jayme Murphy will again be limited in his role on kick returns, just as it was at Minnesota, when kick coverage was the wart during a 55-0 victory.
Steve Spurrier is coaching this game without a strength coach, without an offensive line coach, without his leading tackler and while starting spitting matches with incoming Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, making comments about Kiffin’s recruiting certification. Carolina’s offense hasn’t been great, and that’s sort of Spurrier’s specialty. His players love him. His passing game was ahead of its time in 1996. Now, defenses are quicker and five- and seven-step drops are a lot to ask out of an offensive line.
Meanwhile, the Kirk Ferentz-NFL questions are full bore, again. This is a good thing, though, right Iowa fans? It means you have a coach who is a commodity. That means you’re winning, and the Hawkeyes are doing that this season.
Spurrier is a specialty coach, the offense. Ferentz is total football.