FCU Bowl Season 2014-15: Independence Bowl Preview

The College Bowl Season is upon us, and Pylon University is bringing the breakdowns on offense, defense, and special teams, along with the sport’s traditions and great moments. In this edition, it’s the Independence Bowl preview.

The Matchup

WHO: Miami Hurricanes (6-6) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (6-6)

WHAT: Duck Commander Independence Bowl

WHEN: Saturday, December 27 – 3:30 p.m. EST (ESPN)

WHERE: Independence Stadium – Shreveport, LA

Two teams that turned in mediocre performances this season meet in Louisiana. For the Gamecocks, 2014 was a season to forget. They opened the year ranked ninth in the nation, but were destroyed 52-28 by Texas A&M in the season opener. While they did defeat Georgia in Week 3, they limped through the middle of the season, suffering losses to Missouri, Kentucky, Auburn and Tennessee, as well as a season-ending loss to Clemson in Death Valley.

For Miami, the season included Duke Johnson becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher, while true freshman Brad Kaaya blossomed under center. Even with a number of other standout performances, the team could not turn individual success into team greatness. The Hurricanes lost their season opener, and then after their upset effort stalled against Florida State they struggled down the stretch, losing to Virginia and Pittsburgh in the final two weeks of the regular season.

When South Carolina Has the Football

Playing quarterback for the Old Ball Coach is a tough task, but senior Dylan Thompson handled the position well, completing 60% of his passes for 3,280 yards and 24 touchdowns to go with 11 interceptions. Thompson had a number of multi-touchdown games, tossing four scoring passes against Texas A&M, three against both Georgia and Vanderbilt, and five in the loss to Auburn.

Against the Tigers the quarterback hit Pharoh Cooper on this well-designed play for a touchdown:

The Gamecocks show the Tigers a fake bubble screen from the trips formation. Cooper, the middle receiver in the trips, runs a deep sideline route:

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He pulls in a perfectly thrown ball from his quarterback for the score.

Cooper emerged as a star this season for the Gamecocks. The sophomore brought in 60 passes for 966 yards and eight touchdowns. He had two games with two touchdowns apiece, one of which was an 11-catch, 233-yard effort against Tennessee that included this 85-yard catch:

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The Old Ball Coach also lined Cooper up as a quarterback on occasion. The WR completed 5-of-8 passes in this package in 2014, two of which went for touchdowns including this 30-yarder to Brandon Wilds against the Volunteers:

Cooper lines up in the shotgun with Wilds next to him. The WR takes the snap, simulating a quarterback sweep, with Wilds looking like a lead blocker:

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But the running back doesn’t block, and continues into the secondary on a simple seam route. Cooper hits him in stride.

Wilds and Mike Davis share the load in the running game. Davis, a junior, led South Carolina with 927 yards on 186 carries and nine touchdowns. His classmate Wilds carried the ball 101 times for 567 yards and four touchdowns, including 143 yards and two touchdowns on only eight carries against Tennessee.

Miami senior Denzel Perryman is the heart and soul (video) of the defense. The inside linebacker led Miami with 102 tackles, nearly double the number posted by any of his teammates. Perryman also led the squad with 8.5 tackles for a loss. Other defensive standouts include defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who notched 38 tackles and two sacks, and defensive back Ladarius Gunter, who recorded two interceptions. Jermaine Grace, a solid linebacker, tallied 57 tackles to go with his three sacks on the year.

When Miami Has the Football

The Hurricanes found their quarterback of the future in Kaaya. The true freshman completed 59% of his passes in his inaugural campaign, for 25 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He did not have an off-game all year, throwing for a touchdown in every contest and notching a QB rating above 106 in each contest. He stood tall against tough competition, throwing for 359 yards and three touchdowns against Nebraska, and 316 yards and two scores in Miami’s near-upset of the Seminoles.

But the leader of the offense is Johnson. The junior ran for 1,520 yards on 218 carries in 2014, scoring 10 touchdowns. This put him atop Miami’s all-time rushing leaders, with 3,387 career yards on the ground. The running back earned All-Conference honors, as well as the Brian Piccolo Award as the “Most Courageous Player” in the ACC.

Johnson has the speed…

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…plus the vision and footwork…

…to play at the next level.

On the long run against North Carolina, Johnson simply bursts through the hole and accelerates away from the defense. Against Cincinnati, the Hurricanes face an eight-man box. The RB makes multiple cuts to find daylight, and then turns on the jets to break away from the Bearcats defense.

When Kaaya drops to throw, he looks for a pair of seniors down the field. Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett pulled in 31 throws for 826 yards and nine touchdowns, while tight end Clive Walford caught a team-high 44 passes for 676 yards and seven touchdowns. Johnson also poses a threat in the passing game, with 33 receptions for 370 yards and three touchdowns.

The Gamecocks struggle on the defensive side of the football, yielding 31 points per game (93rd in the nation). Sophomore linebacker Skai Moore’s 82 tackles led South Carolina, while junior strong safety T.J. Gurley added 80. Of great concern for the Old Ball Coach heading into this matchup is the run defense. The Gamecocks surrendered 5.4 yards per carry and 214 yards per game on the ground, which ranked 107th in FBS. They face a tough task in slowing down Johnson and this Hurricanes running attack.

Pro Prospects

South Carolina left guard A.J. Cann is a solid prospect and might be the first guard selected in the draft, currently ranked first at that position by CBS Sportsline. Davis, defensive tackle J.T. Surratt and offensive tackle Corey Robinson should also hear their names on draft day. For Miami, it begins with Johnson. While he has one year of eligibility left, he might be the first running back selected if he turns pro. Other prospects include Perryman, Dorsett and Gunter, all of whom have received invitations to the Senior Bowl, while Chickillo will be showcasing his talents in the East-West Shrine Game. Walford and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers are also Day 2-level talents.

Prediction

Miami’s offense, especially with Johnson running the football, proves too much for the Gamecocks defense.

Miami 27, South Carolina 14

All video and images courtesy ESPN.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

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