Notre Dame vs. South Carolina: 5 things to know about Fighting Irish's Gator Bowl opponent
Notre Dame, ranked No. 21 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, will close Year 1 of the Marcus Freeman era when it takes on No. 19 South Carolina out of the SEC in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30 (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC ). The game will mark the 5th meeting between the schools, with the Fighting Irish winning 3 of the 4 previous contests. The schools share a common head coach in Lou Holtz, who led Notre Dame to the 1988 national championship and later spent 6 years strolling the sidelines for South Carolina, leading the Gamecocks to 2 bowl victories. This will be Notre Dame’s 4th Gator Bowl appearance, with the Fighting Irish 1-2 in the storied bowl game in Jacksonville, Fla.
Here are 5 things to know about Notre Dame’s bowl opponent, the South Carolina Gamecocks.
South Carolina is playing its best football to close the season
The Gamecocks ruined the College Football Playoff dreams of both Tennessee and Clemson late in the regular season. In back-to-back victories over teams that would have merited playoff bids had they simply won out during November, South Carolina showed it is playing its best football at the end of the season. The Gamecocks routed then-No. 5 Tennessee 63-38, thanks to 438 yards and 6 touchdown passes from quarterback Spencer Rattler. They then ended then-No. 7 Clemson’s 40-game home winning streak, nipping the Tigers 31-30 at Death Valley to close the regular season. Rattler, who spent most the season a subject of South Carolina fan disappointment, was marvelous against the Tigers as well, throwing for 360 yards and 2 touchdowns in that victory. Rattler’s 798 yards and 9 touchdowns over the season’s final 2 weeks were stunning considering he threw for just 145 yards during a 38-6 loss to an average Florida team just a week before orchestrating back-to-back top-10 wins.
The Gamecocks play Beamer ball, with the nation’s best special teams unit
Like his father Frank Beamer, South Carolina coach Shane Beamer emphasizes making a difference on special teams. His unit has done that this season, and it’s a huge reason the Gamecocks finished with 8 wins despite a brutal schedule that included games against 3 top-10 opponents. The Gamecocks rank 1st in SP+ special teams efficiency, and they are 1 of 3 teams in the country this season to have a punt block, field-goal attempt block and return a kick for a touchdown. They also have an excellent kicker in Mitch Jeter, who did not miss a field-goal try this season (10-for-10), and they led the SEC in the fewest punt return yards allowed. Notre Dame has made special teams plays a big part of Freeman’s 1st season in South Bend, Ind., too, but the Gamecocks aren’t going to lose the Gator Bowl in this phase of football.
Antwane Wells Jr. vs. Benjamin Morrison will be must-see TV
South Carolina wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr. tore up Tennessee and Clemson while catching 20 passes for 308 yards and 3 total touchdowns, keying the Gamecocks’ offensive turnaround during November.
#SouthCarolina WR Antwane Wells was one of the biggest transfers in the offseason from James Madison, and has carved up Tennessee and Clemson in consecutive weeks.
If he returns to school he will be one of the top senior wideouts in the country.pic.twitter.com/v4PpfjEja6
— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) November 26, 2022
Wells finished the regular season with 63 catches for 898 yards and 6 total touchdowns, ranking 2nd in the SEC in receiving yards. He’ll likely be the guy who Notre Dame chooses to matchup with star freshman corner Benjamin Morrison, who led the Fighting Irish with 5 interceptions this season, including Notre Dame’s play of the year, a 96-yard pick against Clemson that he returned for a score.
— Endzone Energy (@EndzoneEnergy) November 6, 2022
This matchup will be must-see TV.
South Carolina struggles to stop the run
The biggest mismatch in the Gator Bowl likely will be Notre Dame’s power run game against the Gamecocks front. South Carolina ranked a dismal 113th in the country against the run and 67th of 75 teams in my success rate against the run. Yikes. Clemson, even without a passing game because of DJ Uiagalelei’s struggles, stayed in the game against South Carolina by running for 237 yards at a 6.4-yard per carry clip. Had the Tigers simply given Will Shipley the ball more than twice during the 4th quarter, the result might have been different. The Gamecocks gave up more than 5 yards a carry, and that still was a problem late in the season, despite the big wins.
TREVOR ETIENNE. 85-YARD HOUSE CALL.
THE LONGEST PLAY OF THE SEASON FOR THE GATORS 🐊 pic.twitter.com/An8QI2nRv6
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 12, 2022
South Carolina struggled mightily to fit gaps against power run schemes all year, and against the best run offense it played this season, surrendered 374 yards and 7 yards a carry to Florida. Notre Dame can run the ball against the Gamecocks and should build its entire game plan around doing just that in Jacksonville.
Notre Dame should be able to pressure the quarterback
Another area where the Gamecocks struggled? Pass protection.
South Carolina finished 80th in the country in sacks allowed and 77th in pressures allowed during 2022.
Notre Dame, led by All-American candidate Isaiah Foskey, was among the nation’s best teams at getting to the quarterback and the Fighting Irish should dial up plenty of pressure to keep Rattler from getting into a rhythm in Jacksonville.
While the Gamecocks improved in pass protection over the season’s final 2 games — Rattler was sacked 4 times by Clemson — and if Notre Dame posts a similar number, it’ll have a terrific chance to close 2022 with a quality win.