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January 2, 2012

USC-Nebraska: Key battles

GamecockCentral.com breaks down the key matchups for South Carolina's game against Nebraska. At what positions will the game be decided?

Kenny Miles vs. Lavonte David
Miles gets the start after a very fine game against Clemson and the fact that Brandon Wilds was laid up a bit after Clemson and during bowl practice. He had a wonderful Chick-fil-A Bowl but his only real action of the 2011 season was against Clemson, after a torn tendon in his wrist knocked him out of the No. 2 running back position and denied him a shot to make something happen when Marcus Lattimore was injured. It may be Miles' last game as a Gamecock, or it may not - that's a decision that he'll make later. Today is about him, and he'll want to prove that he earned the role. The Gamecocks' offensive line can get the same kind of push it did against the Tigers, the game could go well. Miles won't be making some of the cuts and jukes that Lattimore or Wilds can make. David, the Cornhuskers' leading tackler, will be waiting in the middle of the field for Miles to come at him. Miles has to either avoid him (not likely) or bulldoze him (could happen), because the Gamecocks will want to establish the run first.
Kelcy Quarles vs. Taylor Martinez
Martinez will want to run, and he will run. Of the defensive line, Quarles is the weakest link, although that's still a rather strong piece of the chain. The Huskers can double-team Travian Robertson and shove him out of the way, which clears Martinez to zone-read right at Quarles. USC's superior defensive ends can be negated by running up the middle and having them pursue after Martinez is already through the line, and that's where Quarles will have to be there to at least slow Martinez down. As Melvin Ingram said, the Gamecocks know that Martinez isn't comfortable throwing, and that he darned sure doesn't want to have to win with his arm. If USC can shut down his running ability early, Nebraska could be in for a long day.
Antonio Allen vs. Rex Burkhead
The Huskers will run at the Gamecocks, which seemingly negates USC's secondary, but with a two-headed attack from Martinez and Burkhead, USC may not know which direction Nebraska will be coming from. Allen, at his roving spot, has one more chance to prove why he's one of the country's elite players. He can spy on the ball exchange and see who's getting blocked out of the way, seeing which routes develop and where Martinez or Burkhead are likely headed. As the one player defensively who has a constantly changing assignment, Allen will have to be on point today.
Alshon Jeffery vs. Alfonzo Dennard
The Gamecocks want to get the ball to their best playmaker, but it's been a hard sell throughout the season. While Jeffery caught touchdowns in each of his past two games, it's still a challenge to see if Connor Shaw can get the ball to him. Shaw is getting better, but he couldn't get the ball to Jeffery against bad defenses, and now he's got to do it against one of the country's best cover defensive backs. Dennard will be on Jeffery like flypaper and if Shaw has other options, that's fine. But everyone knows that Jeffery will at least be thrown to at least once, and Dennard can set a tone early with a bat-away or an interception.
Melvin Ingram vs. Yoshi Hardrick
One last game for the big man, who has played a whale of a senior season. He'll be matched up against a left tackle that he can beat, but it remains to be seen if his effectiveness can be as it was against a mobile quarterback. The Gamecocks want to put Martinez on the ground, and that depends on him being in passing situations. Ingram, a consensus All-American, can dictate a game with his ability but if Martinez can run up the middle past him, Ingram is ineffective. What he has to do is get to Martinez early and put him down - if Martinez drops to pass.

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