Gamecocks keep eye on Wisconsin air attack

USC’s thin secondary might not be tested by Badgers in bowl game

jkendall@thestate.comDecember 29, 2013 

— A Capital One Bowl date with Wisconsin might not be the matchup many South Carolina fans wanted, but it couldn’t get much better for Gamecocks secondary coach Grady Brown.

Brown will enter Wednesday’s game against the No. 19 Badgers as thin as he’s ever been at cornerback in his coaching career.

“This is uncharted territory for me,” he said.

Regular starters Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree will be ready to play, but it gets dicey after that.

The transfer of Ahmad Christian leaves the No. 8 Gamecocks without a third cornerback. Starting safety Brison Williams has practiced at the position during bowl preparations, and freshman Rico McWilliams, who has started one game but barely played beyond that also is available. Walk-on Sidney Rhodes, a special teams standout, will enter the game as the No. 5 cornerback.

After that, Brown will have to suit up if USC needs more bodies.

“We have what we have,” Brown said. “The situation is the situation, and we’ll be ready to play come game day.”

The good news for South Carolina is that Wisconsin is not built to take advantage of that weakness. The Badgers are 90th in the nation in passing at 203.8 yards per game and 104th in passing attempts per game at 27.4.

Four of the country’s top 30 offenses have gotten fewer than 3,000 yards through the air — the Badgers (2,445), Ohio State (2,612), Auburn (2,205) and BYU (2,942)

“This is D-line, linebacker game,” South Carolina linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said. “It’s going to be a physical, hit-you-in-the-mouth kind of game.”

Wisconsin will be right at home in that type of contest. The Badgers are eighth in the nation in rushing offense (283 yards per game) and average 6.93 yards per play overall, which is the ninth-best average in the country.

“They are a zone team, run a little zone, run a little power,” USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “You know what you are going to get, just have to stop it. They do a good job of shifting and moving, but once they get lined up, they are going to run the ball downhill — and you have to stop it.”

The Gamecocks have allowed 4.05 yards per carry this season, which is 52nd in nation. The Badgers’ top running back, Melvin Gordon, averages twice that per carry and Badgers backup James White averages 6.4 yards per carry. They are the only teammates in the country who each have more than 1,300 rushing yards this season.

“They have great vision,” USC middle linebacker Kaiwan Lewis said of Gordon and White. “If you get a step out of your gap, they’re going to hit it.”

Ward and the rest of South Carolina’s defensive coaches have talked up Wisconsin’s ability to throw the football despite its reputation this week, but the numbers make it a hard sell. When the Badgers throw, they average 7.4 yards per pass attempt, which is 53rd in the nation.

“They are a balanced football team,” Brown said. “It’s not one of those games where we will have problems paying attention.”

Brown is preaching paying attention — specifically being ready for the play-action pass — to the cornerbacks he does have.

“We have to be ready to play both,” Legree said. “We are kind of limited at DB, but we will all be ready to play. That’s more snaps for me. I am not complaining about it.”

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