Posted: Wednesday December 21, 2005 4:33PM; Updated: Thursday December 22, 2005 12:54PM
Bowl Breakdown: Independence
South Carolina (7-4) vs. Missouri (6-5)
Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Independence Bowl (50,015)
SI.com's Stewart Mandel analyzes the matchup.
Breaking down South Carolina
Redshirt freshman receiver Sidney Rice came out of nowhere to lead the SEC in receiving and touchdowns.
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
First-year coach Steve Spurrier's impact on the Gamecocks' offense was evident, as previously little-used quarterback Blake Mitchell morphed into a 60-percent passer and redshirt freshman Sidney Rice led the SEC in receiving yards (952) and touchdowns (12). South Carolina's running game wasn't as productive, though freshman tailback Mike Davis came on late.
The Gamecocks' defense struggled early before dominating the last four games of the season -- shortly after co-defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix took over the play-calling duties from John Thompson -- including wins over Tennessee and Florida. South Carolina was particularly stingy in the red zone. Sophomore safety Ko Simpson is the undisputed leader of the unit.
Breaking down Missouri
The Tigers' spread offense maximizes the running abilities of electrifying quarterback Brad Smith, the Big 12's all-time total offense leader who led all quarterbacks nationally with 1,151 rushing yards. For the second straight season, however, the senior was inconsistent as a passer. He was hurt by the lack of a go-to receiver. Tailbacks Marcus Woods and Tony Temple split carries.
An inexperienced defense took its lumps early in the season, but seemed to play better down the stretch. The key to the improvement was the Tigers' secondary, led by safeties David Overstreet and Jason Simpson, but Simpson has been suspended following an arrest for marijuana possession. Junior end Brian Smith is a ferocious pass-rusher who had nine sacks.
The Gamecocks performed beyond most reasonable expectations, going 5-3 in the highly competitive SEC. The Tigers limped to a 4-4 record in the decidedly mediocre Big 12. As long as South Carolina can keep Smith from going off, Spurrier should have enough tricks up his sleeve to deliver a victory.