Papjohns.com Bowl Preview and Pick: Connecticut Huskies vs. South Carolina Gamecocks

Connecticut Huskies (7-5, 8-2-1 ATS) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (7-5, 7-4 ATS) Papajohns.com Bowl Legion Field Birmingham, A.L. January 2nd, 2:00PM Eastern
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Uconn +4.5/South Carolina -4.5
Over/Under: 52

The Connecticut Huskies football team had to overcome tragedy at the mid-point of the season following the stabbing death from CB Jasper Howard. After the tragic events, the Huskies lost 3 straight games. However, with an overtime victory at Notre Dame the Huskies rallied back to win their last 3 games earning a trip to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Papajohns.com Bowl. The Gamecocks also overcome a near terrible end to their season. South Carolina lost 3 straight games before turning their momentum in a big convincing victory over the Clemson Tigers 34-17. Now both teams try to cap off the season with their 8th win while building some momentum around their programs heading into 2010.

One interesting factor heading into the contests is how will the Huskies defense stack up against the Steve Spurrier Coached offense. Connecticut relinquished over 30 points per game during those last 6 games down the stretch and their secondary ranks 94th in the nation giving up 244 yards per game. Gamecocks QB Stephen Garcia had a coming out party this year throwing for 227 yards per game through the air which ranked 2nd overall in the SEC. To add fuel to the fire, the Gamecocks have some stellar wide outs that deserve attention. WR Alshon Jeffery conquered All-Freshman All-American honors after coming on strong during late season to catch 43 passes for 735 yards and 6 touchdowns. Jeffery along with another talented freshman in WR Tori Gurley will surely test the Connecticut’s secondary early and often to determine just how aggressive the passing attack can be throughout the game.

Books opened early betting lines favoring the Gamecocks by as much as 6.5 to 6 points over the Huskies perhaps for how easily they conquered the ACC runner-ups in Clemson. However, the lines have shifted constantly in favor of the Huskies as they currently stand at 4.5. In fact, the over/under total has dropped a bit since its opening mark at 53.5 and stands at 52 currently. As for the betting lines, this is one of the only bowl games that has changed more than a half of a point so early since their openings which is something to keep an eye on.

As for the Huskies offense, they will be going up against the 16th ranked
defense in the nation and an even better secondary that ranks 12 nationally
holding opponents to just 167 yards through the air. The good news for Connecticut
is most of their inflicted damage has come the ground attack. Tailbacks
Jordan Todman and senior Andre Dixon compile an excellent
1, 2 punch for the offense. Todman has racked up over 1,100 yards this season
averaging 5 yards per carry with 14 touchdowns. Dixon on the other hand
has been equally strong rushing for 967 yards and 13 additional touchdowns.
Therefore, the ground game has posted well over 2,000 yards and nearly 30
touchdowns this season. Plus the Gamecocks have had issues at times stopping
the run this year. If that is the case again, the Huskies offense could
be in for a big day.

Looking over the defensive match-ups in the contest, the most critical will be the defensive line of Connecticut against the Gamecocks offensive front. The Huskies must get pressure on Garcia to help out their secondary and the Gamecocks have had some questionable performances in their blocking up front. The Huskies have averaged 2.5 sacks per game which is a pretty solid number and they must keep Garcia moving so he does not have time to set his feet. If that happens, the Gamecocks could be much less efficient in their air attack. If Connecticut could then control the clock on the ground, it would help their chances of pulling off the win greatly.

Jay’s Pick - CB Stephon Gilmore came into the Clemson game and gave the Gamecocks a big boost in the “wildcat” formation while also hooking up with a big pass to Alshon Jeffery. If Garcia can not control things through the air, Gilmore could come in again and shake things up. In the end, the Gamecocks defense will be too much for the Huskies offense. Pick South Carolina -4.5.