Preview: Auburn at South Carolina


Steve Spurrier shouldn’t have a problem motivating his South Carolina team against Auburn on Saturday. The Tigers took two games from the Gamecocks last year, including a back-and-forth affair in Auburn and a one-sided beatdown at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Overall, Auburn is 8-1-1 against South Carolina and the Tigers haven’t lost to the Gamecocks since 1933. Beating Auburn would be pretty satisfying for Spurrier, as well, since the Ol’ Ball Coach hasn’t beaten the Tigers since the 2000 SEC Championship Game when he was at Florida.

If historical statistics against Auburn aren’t enough to motivate Carolina, perhaps the Gamecocks’ play so far this season is. Entering 2011, many thought South Carolina would play for an SEC title, and some, including this blog, thought the Gamecocks could possibly be in position to play for a national title. Carolina made it through September at 4-0, which is all that really matters, but Spurrier’s squad hasn’t looked very good in those wins. The Gamecocks had to rally from a 17-0 hole and second-half, 10-point deficit against East Carolina. The defense struggled mightily in a shootout against Georgia. Marcus Lattimore had to rush for 246 yards and score a fourth-quarter touchdown to push Carolina past Navy. And while the defense played well against a bad Vanderbilt offense, Carolina’s offense couldn’t do much in a 21-3 win over the Commodores. Stephen Garcia leads the SEC with seven interceptions and Alshon Jeffery only has one touchdown this year. If not for Lattimore playing workhorse at running back, Carolina’s offense would be struggling to put up points. The Gamecocks are likely looking forward to a chance to right the ship against what is so far a terrible Auburn defense.

Auburn, too, is looking to right the ship. After getting off to a 2-0 start with harrowing finishes against Utah State and Mississippi State, it all came crashing down against Clemson. After the first three Clemson series, the Auburn defense couldn’t do anything right. And after a hot first half, the Tiger offense could only manage three points in the final 30 minutes of a 14-point loss. Going into the Florida Atlantic game, plenty of Auburn players were quoted as saying they were going to take out their frustrations on the Owls. In reality, Auburn limped to a 10-6 halftime lead en route to a 30-14 win. Along the way, the Tiger D allowed the nation’s worst offense to score its first touchdown of the year, convert four more third-down attempts than FAU had all year and give up 307 yards to the Owls.

The Auburn offense could only manage 16 first downs (four fewer than FAU), 315 yards, two touchdowns and two field goals. While the Auburn defense hasn’t really been improving over the first third of the season, the offense is certainly regressing. From poor execution to questionable play-calling, both sides of the ball are playing well below the level it will take to win games in the SEC. Now, Auburn is heading into its toughest stretch of the year — four games against top-15 teams, three of them on the road. Unless things change dramatically, the Tigers are going to be going into November with bowl eligibility seriously in doubt. If that doesn’t give Auburn motivation to step up and play well on Saturday, then the Tigers’ season is already over.


Everyone knew that defense was going to be a problem for Auburn this year. The Tigers lost their best player from 2010 and tons of leadership. And even though Auburn lost Cam Newton and most of the offensive line from last year’s title-winner, it was logical to assume that, with Gus Malzahn as coordinator, the offense would be fine. After all, Malzahn turned Chris Todd into a record-setting quarterback in 2009. How bad could the offense be in 2011?

Right now, it’s pretty bad. Everything looked great for the first two and a half games of the year, but in the last game and a half, something has changed. Receivers are struggling to get open, Barrett Trotter isn’t throwing as accurately and is holding onto the ball too long, and Mike Dyer isn’t getting nearly enough touches to open up the outside running game and passing game.

Against South Carolina, the key for to keep the offense clicking is going to be making sure Dyer gets enough carries. Carolina ranks No. 8 in the SEC in rush defense, and if Dyer can grind for consistent yardage on the inside, the rest of the offense should click. Balancing Dyer with a steady dose of speed sweeps for Onterio McCalebb should establish a rushing attack that the Gamecocks will have a hard time stopping. With one of Auburn’s best receivers, Travon Reed, injured and Trotter showing accuracy problems over the last two games, the Tigers are going to have to be able to pick up yards on the ground to keep the chains moving.

The biggest challenge for Auburn’s offense will fall on the O-line. Stopping Carolina’s defensive line from wreaking havoc in the Tigers’ backfield will prove to be quite a tough task. Super freshman Jadeveon Clowney leads the SEC in sacks and is tied for third in tackles for loss. Melvin Ingram is tied for third in sacks. Those two alone have the ability to blow up Auburn’s running plays before they can take off and make life miserable for Trotter on passing downs. The Auburn offensive line will have to find a way to neutralize Clowney and Ingram to keep Trotter upright and give Dyer room to run between the tackles.


As good as Lattimore is, and as bad as Auburn’s rush defense has been this year, it’s possible that Lattimore could set records on Saturday. Lattimore has been dominate, averaging 152.8 yards per game. He’s rushed the ball 107 times this year, which is 30 more carries than his closest SEC competitor. While Garcia has struggled to make plays in the passing game, Spurrier has had no qualms with giving Lattimore the ball and becoming a one-dimensional offense. Lattimore and Carolina’s offensive line have been so good that opposing defenses haven’t been able to stop the Gamecocks’ ground game.

Gene Chizik, Ted Roof and the rest of the Auburn defense are going to have to forget about the zone coverage defense and force Garcia to beat the Tigers in man-to-man. Auburn has to keep eight men in the box, call run blitzes and do anything else it can to limit Lattimore’s yardage. If Roof calls for a zone defense all day and doesn’t aggressively attack the Gamecocks’ ground game, the Tigers aren’t going to have a chance. Auburn can make some plays in the secondary if Garcia is forced to throw. The Tigers picked off three passes last week against Florida Atlantic, and Garcia is a turnover machine. Even though Auburn has given up plenty of yards through the air this season, forcing South Carolina to pass will be the only chance the Tigers have at forcing turnovers and grabbing momentum.


Losing Reed not only hurts Auburn in the passing game, but it could seriously affect punt returns. Reed has successfully fielded every punt he’s attempted, something that Auburn fans haven’t been used to in recent years. Quan Bray will fill in for Reed and could have a huge impact on the game. Should Bray break off a couple of big returns, it could put Auburn in position to pull the upset. Should Bray muff a punt or two, the nail could be in the Tigers’ coffin very early.

Auburn must shift field position in its favor on kickoffs and kickoff returns. The Tigers are second in the SEC in average kickoff return yards and, thanks in large part to Cody Parkey’s conference-leading 15 touchbacks, top the SEC in kickoff coverage. South Carolina ranks ninth in return average and is dead last in coverage. Tre Mason will have a chance for some big plays returning the ball and should give Auburn solid field position after every Gamecock kickoff. Parkey and the coverage team should keep Carolina at or around its own 20 to start each drive.


South Carolina has the talent to be an SEC title contender, but the Gamecocks haven’t put together anything close to a complete game. Even though Auburn is in rebuilding mode, a win over the defending champs would do a lot to boost confidence in Columbia. If Carolina can put it together on offense and defense this week and blowout Auburn, that might be the spark Spurrier’s team needs to make a run at the SEC title.

Auburn is at a bit of a crossroads. Sure, the Tigers are 3-1, but the team has played very poorly at times and could easily be 1-3. The South Carolina game will set the tone for the rest of the season. If Auburn can find a way to win on the road at a top-10 team, the Tigers could put themselves in position to make it out of October alive and push for a New Year’s Day bowl. Should Auburn lose to the Gamecocks, it will just reinforce the notion that this team isn’t ready to compete with the best in the SEC. Getting through October anything other than 1-4 will be a stretch, and any bowl appearance at all will be in jeopardy. If Trotter continues to struggle in the passing game, and Auburn loses big, the question of whether or not Kiehl Frazier should take over starting quarterback duties will need some consideration. Trotter is a fine QB, but Frazier is the future of the program. If the passing game isn’t producing and the wheels are coming off of the season, getting the future some real game experience might not be a bad idea. Of course, if Trotter leads Auburn to victory on Saturday, that point is moot.


Unfortunately, It’s not going to be pretty for Auburn. Dyer will get more carries and will be able to pick up good yardage in the first half. That will open up the passing game, and Trotter will complete some big passes. But South Carolina’s extremely talented defensive line will cause problems all day, keeping Auburn from matching Gamecock touchdowns. Garcia will do almost nothing other than hand the ball to Lattimore, and while the Auburn front seven will be able to somewhat contain the running back in the first half, Lattimore will run wild in the second half. Auburn’s defense won’t be able to get off the field, and, after falling behind, the offense will go one-dimensional and throw the ball on almost every down. That’s when Clowney and Ingram will take over and keep Trotter from having any easy throws. Auburn’s offense will have a hard time moving the ball on the few second-half possessions it has. Lattimore won’t break 200 yards, but he’ll come close, and the Gamecocks will pull away in the fourth quarter for a big win. South Carolina 45, Auburn 28.