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Capital One Bowl 2014: Connor Shaw, Bruce Ellington too much for Wisconsin defense

In the end, Connor Shaw and South Carolina's potent duo of receivers were too much for a defense susceptible to dangerous passing attacks.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin's defense was very good in 2013, transitioning much easier into a 3-4 than many expected. The front seven was loaded with seniors, and it stuffed the run and bought into defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's scheme. The secondary bought in as well and played well at times, but this was a suffocating defense that nevertheless, at times, struggled against aggressive and potent passing attacks. Taylor Kelly, Braxton Miller, Christian Hackenberg and now South Carolina's Connor Shaw have shown what a solid passing game could do against Wisconsin's defense.

With the New Year's Day 34-24 loss to the Gamecocks in the Capital One Bowl, a set of familiar trends once again surfaced to bring down the Badgers in the form of a mobile quarterback and deep completions.

Looks from the defense

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier deployed spread and pistol-like formations, utilizing several looks in 12 and 11 personnel groupings, mixed with a few looks of a 20 personnel, if I remember correctly. To counter the Gamecocks, the Badgers used these looks:

  • A 3-4 look with an odd number of players on the line of scrimmage
  • A 3-4 look with an even number of of players on the line, usually linebacker Brendan Kelly acting as a pseudo defensive linemen
  • A 4-2-5 look, with four linemen (two being linebackers acting as linemen), two other backers and five defensive backs

What went wrong

1. Connor Shaw. He threw just three incompletions and torched Wisconsin for 312 yards and three touchdown passes through the air, along with one receiving and rushing score apiece. He picked apart the coverages, and along with some amazing catches, really found his groove late in the third and into the fourth quarter as the Gamecocks scored 21 points on three consecutive possessions. South Carolina must've saw something in Wisconsin's defense during halftime, as it went to a fair amount of plays in 11 personnel.

2. Pressure leading to scrambles. The Badgers only got to Shaw once for a sack, but they did apply pressure by mixing rushing personnel during the game. Shaw's mobility, though, helped him evade the pressure most of the time and ultimately lead to some decent gains. One play in particular stands out to me, as Aranda sent senior safety Dezmen Southward on the blitz from the blind side. Southward almost gets there, but Shaw steps up in the pocket and then runs for a decent gain.

Capital One Bowl Recap

3. Long completions. The deep ball hurt the Badgers again. Immediately after Joel Stave's flukey interception in the first quarter, the Gamecocks wasted no time as Shaw found wide receiver Bruce Ellington for a 39-yard touchdown. Ellington beat cornerback Sojourn Shelton on a post route, and it appeared safety Mike Caputo was looking into the backfield and didn't provide any help in the middle of the field. More on Ellington in a second. Shaw found receiver Shaq Roland for a huge 49-yard gain after the Badgers failed on their 4th-and-1 attempt in the fourth quarter, again picking on the combination of Shelton and Caputo as Roland out-positioned and out-jumped them.

4. Ellington. The 5'9 junior had six catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns, along with throwing one to a wide-open Shaw on a bit of trickery from Spurrier in the second quarter. But you have to give Ellington credit. He made some spectacular catches against man coverage from Southward, especially on that 22-yard catch on 4th-and-7 in the third quarter. Shaw exploited the man coverage, and Ellington made them pay all afternoon with catches of 32, 39, 22 and 22 yards.

5. Three straight offensive drives leading to touchdowns. That was the huge turning point of the game, starting in the third quarter. Wisconsin could not stop Shaw and the Gamecocks' offense after missing the chance to go up by seven points. Momentum shifted back to South Carolina, and with some big plays from Ellington, Roland and Shaw.

6. Red-zone conversions. As South Carolina's defense held Wisconsin to a field goal and a missed one in the third quarter, the Badgers' defense failed to hold their opponents to field goals in the red zone.

What went right

1. Two turnovers that could have lead to points. The forced fumbles by linebackers Derek Landisch and Conor O'Neill could've been game-changers at their respective times and given the Badgers' offense the possibility of scoring in Gamecocks territory. Landisch's play on Shaw in the third quarter could've led to a seven- or 10-point lead, while O'Neill's play on tailback Brandon Wilds gave a breath of life to a team downtrodden late in the game.

2. When pressure on Shaw worked, it lead to incompletions and rushed plays. Aranda's team, especially on the first couple of drives, put pressure on the experienced signal caller, leading to a sack by linebacker Joe Schobert, and throughout the game, the Badgers appeared to be just a split-second short of making a play in the offensive backfield. Aranda sent five or more defenders a few times, but as seen through most of this year, he sent various combinations of four rushers the majority of the time. On the first drive of the game, I was impressed with some of the defensive line's pressure, including that of Beau Allen.