South Carolina defeated Wisconsin 34-24 in the 2014 Capital One Bowl on January 1 thanks to a career day by senior quarterback Connor Shaw. In his last game in a South Carolina uniform, Shaw not only guided his team to another 11-win season (South Carolina's third consecutive), but also made a strong statement for NFL scouts and general managers.
But Shaw's audition for the NFL isn't the only thing we took away from this game.
Wisconsin's defense struggled against Shaw's accuracy and the speed of the Gamecocks receiving corps, while South Carolina's defense—Jadeveon Clowney included—had difficulty at times stopping the Badgers' power run game.
We'll discuss all this in greater detail and a whole lot more in our list of things we learned during the 2014 Capital One Bowl.
With all the great things Clowney does better than almost anyone in the nation, it might seem like nitpicking to go after his lack of coverage skills. After all, Clowney is a once-in-a-generation defensive end.
But Wisconsin exposed one of Clowney's weaknesses early on in the Capital One Bowl. Clowney is a true defensive end—meaning he makes his name disrupting opposing offenses at or behind the line of scrimmage. When the Badgers were able to get him out of position, usually while covering a breaking tight end, Clowney wasn't able to adjust to pass coverage very well.
In the first quarter, Clowney not only lost contain on his assignment, but also was flagged for holding the receiver—who proceeded to catch the touchdown pass anyway.
Luckily for Clowney, he won't have to do much pass coverage in the NFL next fall.
Wisconsin likes to run the ball. That's nothing new, nor is the 43 rush attempts the Badgers put up Wednesday against the Gamecocks.
Also not new: an otherwise strong team struggling on defense against the Badgers run game.
Wisconsin had nearly 300 yards on the ground against the Gamecocks, averaging nearly seven yards per carry. The Wisconsin offensive line is just so powerful; it opens up massive holes that most runners would find easy to run through. When you consider that the Badgers have James White and Melvin Gordon in the backfield, it's even easier.
South Carolina isn't particularly bad on defense, but Wisconsin did what it does to almost every team it faces; the Badgers ran over, around and through the Gamecocks all afternoon.
The quarterback-wide receiver relationship is one of the most important in football, and that's particularly true when you're talking about Connor Shaw and Bruce Ellington.
Shaw is off to the NFL, but Ellington, with a year of eligibility remaining, has yet to make up his mind. But even if Ellington returns, he'll be without the quarterback who has, with amazing accuracy, allowed performances like Wednesday's 140-yard, two-touchdown outing.
No matter who replaces Shaw (and possibly Ellington, too) as the top tandem at South Carolina, there's little chance they will be as productive.
Head coaches want, more than anything, to win football games. Steve Spurrier is no different. But the ol' Head Ball Coach certainly has a flair for the dramatic.
One of the best plays we'll likely see throughout this 2013-14 bowl season was the handoff-reverse pass from Ellington to Shaw for a South Carolina touchdown. Not only was it a great play that caught Wisconsin completely off guard, but it was also a fitting exclamation point to Shaw's career at South Carolina.
What a great play call from a coaching legend for a South Carolina quarterback legend...
No matter the media outlet, you're sure to come across pundits who can't seem to stop talking about "SEC speed." We all know how the folks at CBS and ESPN love to gush over the SEC—especially with all of the monetary investment both have with the conference these days—but there's a good reason for all the love.
The SEC has, for the last half-decade or so, been one of the most disciplined, strong and, above all, fast defensive conferences in the FBS. But over the past few seasons, the margins of victory for the SEC against teams from the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten seem to be narrowing.
Is it a falloff from the SEC, or is the rest of the nation beginning to catch up?
The Big Ten, conversely, has been much-maligned over the same time frame, and for good reason. The traditional big names—Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin—have all fallen on hard times in one form or another. But is that conference starting to pull itself out of the doldrums?
Wednesday's matchup between the Wisconsin ground game and the South Carolina defense was a microcosm of the larger SEC-Big Ten debate. South Carolina struggled against the Badgers on the ground, but the Badgers couldn't slow the Gamecocks passing game.
Wisconsin was also unable to establish much of a passing game itself.
So is the Big Ten catching up? It depends on how you look at it.
If the forward pass were banned, teams like Wisconsin could do very, very well against teams like South Carolina. But the SEC powers like South Carolina appear to still have a more complete roster than Big Ten behemoths like Wisconsin.
With no passing game to speak of and an underwhelming defensive secondary, we're forced to give the SEC the edge for yet another season.
People have been talking all season long about Jadeveon Clowney and his motivation—or lack thereof—in his final season at South Carolina. There might be something to the idea that this whole concept is overblown, but either way, the discussion should be over after his performance in the 2014 Capital One Bowl.
Clowney, from the first snap to the last, was all over the field, containing the running game on the edge, disrupting passing lanes, pressuring the quarterback and knocking down so many passes we lost track. There was no question he was out on the field to win the game for his team, not protect his valuable health heading into the NFL draft this spring.
If he's not the top overall pick, something is very wrong.
We've already mentioned how Wisconsin is very good at running the football. That was proven against the Gamecocks. But if the Badgers—and the rest of the Big Ten—even want to get back to a point where they can compete with the SEC—team for team, top to bottom—some wholesale changes in football culture need to be made.
We understand there's a reason for building a Big Ten team in a particular way. The weather up north can turn pretty ugly come late October, and passing games in driving sleet and snow aren't exactly something on which you can count. The result is an emphasis on running the football.
But for Wisconsin, that emphasis has turned into an identity that almost ignores everything else.
Without much of a passing game and an anemic defensive secondary, the Badgers are in danger of looking like a relic. Head coach Gary Andersen must make a concerted effort to alter the makeup of his program, or the last three Big Ten titles from 2010 to 2012 could be the last folks in Madison see for some time.
And that doesn't even touch on how Wisconsin would fare against teams from the rest of the nation...
The pre-NFL draft talk always has a pretty strong focus on quarterbacks. But where's all the hype about Connor Shaw? It seems as if all we hear about is Johnny Manziel, Tajh Boyd and Teddy Bridgewater.
CBSSports.com has Shaw ranked No. 17 among draftable quarterbacks in 2014. Seriously? He's even listed at No. 293 overall, giving him a late-seventh-round or free-agent status.
Again, seriously? What kind of NFL team doesn't want a guy who can complete 22-of-25 for 312 yards and three TDs on the biggest stage he's seen? Shaw has earned a spot on an NFL roster as much—or more so—than any quarterback in the nation.
Shaq Roland, after a very quiet and unproductive freshman season in 2012, got off to a very rocky start in 2013. But maybe those growing pains have helped. And after his performance against Wisconsin, he is beginning to look like the "next big thing" for South Carolina at wide receiver.
Roland had six receptions for 112 yards against the Badgers, including a few very athletic and acrobatic catches that extended South Carolina drives and set up scores.
If Roland can keep progressing and move past his previous setbacks, there's every reason to believe he could develop into one of the SEC's top receivers in 2014 and 2015.
We could go into all of the X's and O's, quote enough stats to make a mathematician queasy, or just spout off some "the SEC is God's gift to football" nonsense, but instead we'll just state some simple truths.
Connor Shaw is one of the best and one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the entire country.
Bruce Ellington is an absolute beast of a wide receiver.
Jadeveon Clowney proved, once again, why he's the consensus favorite to be the top overall NFL draft selection this spring.
Mike Davis is so good, he could be a starting running back for Wisconsin.
Skai Moore, a freshman with two interceptions, isn't one of those defensive guys who plays on defense because he can't catch or run with the ball. He's dangerous anywhere.
Steve Spurrier could outcoach Nick Saban, Mark Dantonio, Art Briles, David Cutcliffe and Bill Snyder, even if they were all on the same staff together—or, if not, at least give better postgame pressers.
And, finally, South Carolina is the definition of a "complete team." In both phases of the offense, South Carolina excels with some very potent weapons. On defense, both running and passing the ball can be hazardous. And were it not for a few unfortunate plays against a then-healthy Georgia and Tennessee, the Gamecocks might be talking about national championships rather than Capital One Bowl titles.
But even with those losses, it's clear to us that South Carolina is right where it belongs: squarely in the Top 10 at the end of the season.
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