ORLANDO, Fla. - When Nebraska and South Carolina take the field for Monday's Capital One Bowl, there will be two head coaches on opposite sidelines with drastically different approaches in their coaching philosophies.
On one side is Nebraska's Bo Pelini, who built his reputation on defense and helped put together some of the better defenses of the past decade during his time at Oklahoma and LSU and then with the Huskers.
On the other is South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, who's widely regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football history and has a decorated resume and a national championship to prove it.
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While the coaches have traveled opposite paths over the course of their careers, both had mutual respect for how the other had built his program.
Pelini said he's been very impressed with the way Spurrier has been able to adapt to the talent he has at South Carolina and adjust his coaching style around his players compared to what he did during his successful run at Florida.
"I believe the sign of a good coach is the ability to look at what you have and play to the strengths of your group," Pelini said. "I think when (Spurrier) was at Florida, he was probably more spread out in an empty (backfield), wide (formation) type of thing with a different style of quarterback… Obviously Coach Spurrier is still going to throw the football, but their quarterback (Connor Shaw) runs the ball well. They incorporate a lot of the zone read type of thing, and then they mix it up a lot like we do with the passing game.
"It's a well thought out offense, and they're coached well enough that the kids executing it have a good understanding of what they're trying to get done. That's a sign of a good football team."
Spurrier said he was well aware of Pelini's reputation for putting together top-level defenses. While Nebraska's defensive numbers would suggest a bit of a drop off this season, Spurrier said he's not taking anything for granted as long as Pelini is roaming the opposing sideline.
"Bo Pelini has an excellent track record as a defensive coordinator, and he pretty much runs the defense," Spurrier said. "I think he's not one of those head coaches who stands over and watches the game. He's actively involved in running the defense. He's got a great track record, and he's done a great job."
Spurrier said he hasn't had a chance to get to know Pelini much over the years, but based on his Youngstown, Ohio, roots and the great coaches he grew up with, Spurrier had little doubt Pelini was cut from the same mold.
"He grew up in Youngstown with all the Stoops brothers," Spurrier said. "I was talking with my wife, I said, 'you know, all the Stoops brothers are all defensive coaches. They're all these hybrid guys in Youngstown.' I don't know if they teach offensive ball out there in Youngstown. I'm trying to find one of those guys."
As far as the game itself is concerned, Pelini said the first thing that stands out about South Carolina from watching film is its overall team speed. He said that while part of that is just great athletic talent across the board, what really makes that speed so effective is the efficiency with which South Carolina runs its offense.
"I think have not only speed at the skill positions, but they're very athletic on the lines," Pelini said. "On top of that, they're very well coached. They play the game the right way. They're fundamentally sound, technique sound, and that enables you to play a little faster, because those guys know what they're doing. That says a lot about their coaching staff and what they're trying to accomplish. It doesn't surprise me they were able to win 10 games in the SEC. They're a good football team that allows their athleticism to stand out."
With a fast, physical defense and heralded offensive skill players at nearly every position, Pelini said the biggest key to the game would likely come down to which team better took care of the football.
"They don't make a lot of mistakes," Pelini said. "They're pretty efficient in what they do. They take care of the football. That's the thing I say in bowl games, you want to win the takeaway battle. They've been good in that area, and that's something that I've been preaching, we've been preaching, that we need to take care of the football on our side and then try to take advantage of the mistakes they might make on their side."