Gamecocks bring offensive mystery against UConn

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Lawrence Wilson and the Connecticut defense aren't sure exactly what to expect from Steve Spurrier in the Papajohns.com Bowl.

Will the South Carolina coach display the air-it-out style he is famed for on Saturday or the old-fashioned attack the Gamecocks used to pound away at Clemson?

"Spurrier, he's a week-to-week type guy," said Wilson, a Huskies linebacker. "He's going to make sure you can't gameplan him. That's definitely going to be tough for our defense."

The Gamecocks (7-5) ran 58 times for 223 yards in a 34-17 victory over Clemson in the regular season finale, matching the total rushes from the previous two games and topping the 175 yards from the past three. It wasn't exactly vintage Spurrier. The Gamecocks still rank last in the Southeastern Conference in rushing and second in passing behind a matured Stephen Garcia and freshman receiver Alshon Jeffery.

But, says Spurrier, "We may try to do that again this game."

Or maybe not. Regardless, South Carolina now sports an element of mystery.

"He's the head ball coach," Gamecocks receiver Moe Brown said. "You never really know with this guy, what he's going to do. That's what you've gotta love about him."

The matchup makes a Clemson replay seem unlikely. UConn (7-5) ranks 95th of 120 FBS teams in pass defense, giving up 244.8 yards a game through the air and allowing 480 against Cincinnati.

UConn's offensive plan might be a little more predictable, if no easier to stop. Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon have totaled 2,119 yards and 27 touchdowns rushing, and they're only 33 yards by Dixon away from having a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. No UConn duo has ever accomplished that in a program that had only 10 players post 1,000-yard seasons before Todman.

Spurrier has spent far more time studying UConn's defense than the offense, but he has picked up on one trend.

"They run that off-tackle play," he said. "It seems like that's the play in the Big East this year. I watched Pittsburgh run it about 25 times every game. Obviously UConn runs it and runs it very well. We know we're going to have to stop that to have a chance to beat them."

South Carolina has struggled against some SEC backs, from Tennessee's Montario Hardesty (121 yards) to Alabama's Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (246).

"They're just as solid as any other running backs we've gone against," All-America linebacker Eric Norwood said of Todman and Dixon.

UConn's Zach Frazer has averaged 227 yards passing in the last five games, giving some balance. The Notre Dame transfer opened the season as starter before hurting his knee, then regained the job when Cody Endres sustained a shoulder injury against Rutgers.

It has been a trying season for the Huskies. Cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 at a university-sponsored dance.

"For those guys to go 7-5 with the adversity that hit them in the middle of the season was something special," Spurrier said.

Three straight losses followed, and UConn's bowl hopes were fading. Then came a double-overtime victory at Notre Dame to kick off a three-game winning streak.

"That's done more for our program than anybody could imagine," said UConn coach Randy Edsall, whose team is 2-1 in bowls since moving up to Division I-A (now FBS) in 2002.

The Big East's Huskies have a chance for another attention-getting victory. Then it wouldn't be just the basketball team winning in January.

"Some people would consider UConn not that much of a football school," Todman said. "But we want to definitely want to show people that we can play at any level, SEC, it really doesn't matter. Coming from the Big East, we definitely get the feeling people might take us lightly, but at the end of the game they'll definitely have a different thought than that."

The Gamecocks have a much longer history but are only 4-10 in bowl games, winning once in three tries under Spurrier. It's also a chance to even out his postseason record. Despite winning seven SEC titles and a national championship, he's only 7-8 in bowl games.

That track record started incidentally with a loss to Texas Tech in the 1989 All-American Bowl at Legion Field, his final game at Duke before taking over Florida's program.

Garcia and the Gamecocks were roughed up in a 31-10 loss to Iowa in last year's Outback Bowl in his hometown of Tampa. He was intercepted three times and fumbled once in the first half before being pulled from the game.

This season he is the league's No. 2 passer, logging four 300-yard games.

"It's a little different feel from this year to last year," Brown said. "He was in his hometown practicing at his old high school, so there was a lot of hype. This year he's got another year under his belt, a whole season as a starter. I think he's going to go into the game and make good decisions.

"From last year to this year, he's definitely a different player."

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