South Carolina at #5 Auburn Preview and Predictions

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Oct 4, 2014; Lexington, KY, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks wide receiver Pharoh Cooper (11) dives for a touchdown against Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Josh Forrest (45) in the second half at Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 45-38. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina’s Keys to Victory

1. Third Down Defense. The Gamecocks’ third-down defense has been generous this season, to say the least. They opened the season by allowing Texas A&M to convert 12-17 3rd downs, which led to the Aggies rolling up nearly 700 yards of offense. They’ve shown some improvement since then, but haven’t faced an offense the caliber of Auburn’s. Not even Texas A&M’s offense can compare to Auburn’s (scoring zero points in Tuscaloosa makes the Aggies’ 52 points against South Carolina look more and more like an indictment of the Gamecock defense). If it’s 3rd-and-short, the Gamecocks must be stout against the run. On 3rd-and-long, don’t let Duke Williams find himself open.

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2. Establish Mike DavisDavis has a solid 662 yards and 8 touchdowns this year, but it still feels as though he’s fallen short of expectations, especially considering the Gamecocks’ offensive line. Auburn allows 120 rushing yards per game, 20th in the FBS, and that’s including last week, when Mississippi State gained 223 on the ground. The Tigers have a stout run defense, but Carolina needs to be able to run the ball to have a chance. Auburn’s improved secondary is good at creating turnovers, and Dylan Thomas has had some turnover problems this year. South Carolina can’t be one-dimensional and expect to win, or even stay with the Tigers for more than a half.

3. Continue Field Goal Success. When you’re playing Auburn, making field goals is important. I’m not joking. It seems that teams that play Auburn completely forget that the point of a field goal is to send it through the uprights. Since last year’s Iron Bowl, Auburn opponents are 7/15 converting field goals. That’s a pretty incredible statistic. It’s as though Auburn has a magical field goal force field. Fortunately for Carolina, kicker Elliot Fry is as dependable as they come, as he is 12/13 this season, with his only miss being from 50+ yards against Texas A&M. If the Gamecocks can stay close with Auburn, they’d best hope Fry is immune to “Missing Field Goals Against Auburn” disease.