By J.J. PESAVENTO
JANUARY 1, 2009 * 11:00 A.M. * ESPN
Iowa and South Carolina took different paths to the Outback Bowl after missing the post-season a year ago. South Carolina was an impressive 7-3 before they dropped their final two games while Iowa was a mediocre 3-3 before winning five of their last six games.
When the Hawkeyes have the ball
Don't expect anything flashy from the Iowa offense, just a heavy dose of the running game. Running back Shonn Greene took home several honors, including the Doak Walker Award, after rushing for over 100 yards in all 12 games this season. Greene is a physical runner with deceptive speed and the Gamecocks will undoubtedly key on him by loading up in the box. However, they will be without leading tackler safety Emmanuel Cook, who has been declared academically ineligible for the game. That will put added pressure on spur-backer Darian Stewart, who will move into the strong safety position, as well as Dion LeCom, who will take over for Stewart at Spur. When Iowa does pass, Ricky Stanzi will target wide receivers Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Andy Brodell or tight end Brandon Myers. Iowa will roll Stanzi out a lot since he is more comfortable on the move. Considering South Carolina ranks third in the nation vs. the pass, that may be the best way to protect him from linebacker Eric Norwood, who tied for the SEC lead in sacks this season with nine.
When the Gamecocks have the Ball
The Gamecocks are the exact opposite of the Hawkeyes as their offense relies heavily on the passing attack. Stephen Garcia will get the start over Chris Smelley at quarterback. Garica has seen action in seven games, throwing for 753 yards with six touchdowns and five picks. He's also contributed on the ground with two rushing touchdowns. His primary targets will be Ken McKinley and Jared Cook. Cook is a tight end with wide receiver talent who will be a challenge for the Iowa defense in coverage. South Carolina will have to stop an Iowa defense led by All-American tackle Mitch King. Garcia will have to beware of linebacker Pat Angerer and defensive back Amari Spievey, both of whom were among the conference leaders in picks. When they do run, Mike Davis will get the call but he will be running up against a defense that ranks 10th in the nation against the run. Led by King, the front seven--including Matt Kroul, Adrian Clayborn and Angerer--are almost impossible to run on.
Iowa lives and dies by the running game and with Emmanuel Cook out for the Gamecocks, the Hawkeyes may have even more success than originally expected. Look for them to pound the ball with Greene and be fairly conservative in the passing game. The games they lost during the regular season were due mainly to costly turnovers by Stanzi. South Carolina will have no success running the ball and they give up an alarming amount of sacks. They also had 33 giveaways in 2008, worst in the SEC. Against an aggressive Iowa front; they will have to find a way to protect Garcia and the ball if they plan on winning. Iowa has the edge on offense and the Gamecocks do not have the firepower to dent the Iowa defense. Iowa comes in the hotter team and gets the win.
Prediction: Iowa 27, South Carolina 17
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Pass--Ricky Stanzi (1,809 yards, 13 TDs)
Run--Shonn Greene (1,729 yards, 17 TDs)
Catch--Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (43-621 yards, 3 TDs)
South Carolina Gamecocks
Pass--Chris Smelley (1,743 yards, 13 TDs)
Run--Mike Davis (571 yards, 3 TDs)
Catch--Kenny McKinley (48-556 yards, 4 TDs)
Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media, College Press Box (Iowa University)