December 31, 2011

Gamecocks zeroed in on Burkhead, Martinez

ORLANDO, Fla. - Ever since South Carolina started scouting Nebraska's offense, two players predictably kept showing up on film as the biggest keys to the Huskers' offensive success.

The Gamecocks know full well that the only way to shut down NU is to contain the running ability of sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez and junior running back Rex Burkhead.

When South Carolina's coordinators and players met with reporters for the first Capital One Bowl press conference of the week on Saturday, both defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and All-American defensive end Melvin Ingram said the defense would have to come ready to shut down the run if it's going to win Monday's game.

"We focus on all 11 people getting to the football," Ingram said. "(Burkhead) is going to run hard, but we're going come to the ball hard. It's going to be big boy football. We're going to play hard and we know he's going to play hard, and the outcome will be decided on Monday."

Ward said he has been very impressed with what he's seen from Burkhead this season, saying he was going to be one of the most physical runners South Carolina will have faced this year.

Ward said Burkhead's ability to handle a big workload and play just as hard in the final minutes as he does in the beginning of the game would be a big test for his defense.

"It definitely won't be easy," Ward said. "We've got to do a good job of trying to get him before he gets started. If we can do that, we've got a chance against them. If we don't, we can tell that the longer the game goes, the harder he runs. We've got to do a good job against him."

As for Martinez, Ward and Ingram didn't seem all that impressed with his ability as a passer, but both were well aware about his speed running the football.

The Gamecocks have been using running backs and receivers on the scout team to better simulate Martinez's speed in the option game. Though Ward said the defense gets a pretty good look at a mobile quarterback every day in practice against their own QB, Connor Shaw, he said Martinez would be far and away the fastest signal caller they would face this season.

"We see it every day from Connor, so that's helped us," Ward said. "Connor runs well, but I think Martinez is probably a little faster… If we don't stop the quarterback from running the football, we will have a long day on Monday."

The game plan for South Carolina's defense is the same most teams have used against Nebraska this year - stop the run and force Martinez to throw the football.

The Gamecocks feel Martinez isn't nearly as effective when he has to stand in the pocket and make plays with his arm.

"He can throw the ball, but he's not comfortable with throwing the ball," Ingram said. "He's the type of quarterback that will really use his legs. Whenever they get into a passing situation where he wants to throw the ball, we're going to come after him. We're going to give it 100 percent every time."

While Martinez has obviously had issues effectively throwing the ball consistently, Ward said it's not as if South Carolina still doesn't need to respect his ability to make some big plays through the air.

Martinez's may not have the traditional mechanics of most quarterbacks, but Ward said he makes up for it by simply finding ways to come up some clutch throws.

"He doesn't have all the mechanics that a natural pocket passer would have, which you wouldn't expect for a young man who runs the football as much as he does," Ward said. "But you see him throw the football, and he completes a lot of passes. The receivers do a good job of getting open, and he does a great job of buying time with his feet.

"He's sometimes like a riverboat gambler. Again, he'll take a chance and the throw the ball in there, where most quarterbacks see a receiver that's semi-covered and they won't take a chance. He feels comfortable with the strength of this arm, and you see him make some great throws at times."

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