If anybody tells you that they have the foggiest idea what is going to happen in this game with regards to the ultimate final score, they are absolutely lying. As we'll see in the breakdown, this is a matchup of two very talented teams, with very inconsistent quarterbacks, who are pretty evenly matched overall. So why bother with a breakdown? Well, for one, this is probably the most important SEC game of the year thus far. Both teams are legitimate "not quite Alabama" contenders in the league, though Auburn has the disadvantage of being in the division with Alabama. Additionally, while the final result is going to be nearly impossible to predict, certain things in this game are a near given. Without further ado:
Auburn Base Offense - Spread (1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE)
South Carolina Base Offense - Spread (1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE) (South Carolina has been running the I-Form quite a bit recently however)
Auburn Base Defense - 4-3 (4 DL, 3 LB's, 2 CB, 2 S)
South Carolina Base Defense - 4-2-5 (4 DL, 2 LB, 1 LB/S, 2 CB, 2 S)
Auburn's Rush Offense v. South Carolina's Rush Defense: Small advantage South Carolina
South Carolina's DT's have probably been the highlight of the defense thus far and Auburn's guards and Center haven't dominated by any means. I expect Auburn to find a lot of difficulty running between the tackles in this game. Auburn will probably find some success getting Dyer outside the tackles, but South Carolina's LB's and safeties will prevent many big gains that way and will likely catch Dyer in the backfield a couple of times. However, if you count Cam Newton's called runs and improv scrambles, Auburn will likely get a few big gains on the ground, almost getting this into push territory. However, I do not expect Auburn to be able to convert short yardage when they need to on the ground with a straight run, which ultimately gives USC the advantage here.
Auburn's Pass Offense v. South Carolina's Pass Defense: Advantage South Carolina
South Carolina has one of the better secondaries in the country, Auburn has one of the better receiving corps in the country. Both units will likely best the other at times. To put it nicely, Cam Newton has been wildly inaccurate during stretches and with South Carolina featuring a defense that often has three safeties playing zone, that could lead to some ugly interceptions should Newton test the middle of the field. The big key will be South Carolina's down 4 pass rush. If they can consistently get to Newton and bottle him up, USC could well dominate. Newton will likely make a couple big plays in the passing game, but will likely turn the ball over a couple of times and won't be able to move the chains consistently on 3rd down.
South Carolina's Rush Offense v. Auburn's Rush Defense: Push
Some might be expecting an advantage to South Carolina here, but I am hesitant to call it that way. I'm still unconvinced that South Carolina's OL has actually progressed. They beat up on an outmanned Georgia D that doesn't have the personnel to run a 3-4 defense. This is their first legitimate test. If the USC OL can consistently get Lattimore to the LB level with clean holes, he is going to break a lot of tackles and have a very nice game. But if USC can't open up interior holes, Lattimore isn't the type of back that is going to beat you on the outside. Clemson gouged Auburn at times, but with very quick backs. That's not South Carolina's game, though we may see Kenny Miles some more here, who is the quicker back (Jarvis Giles has transferred).
South Carolina's Pass Offense v. Auburn's Pass Defense: Advantage Auburn
Much like Auburn, South Carolina has great WR's and much like Auburn the QB play has been inconsistent. USC isn't even really sure which QB will play more, maligned Junior Stephen Garcia or true Freshman Connor Shaw (who Spurrier clearly favors, but may be too green to really be the QB). Regardless, we can expect some big plays, but some really bad decisions from either QB. Both are moderately mobile and can make plays running the ball (though neither is on Cam Newton's level in that regard). Look for USC to move the ball through the air well at times, but also throw a big interception (or two) and give up some drive killing sacks.
Special Teams: Push
Neither team has a true weapon on special teams in the sense that neither has a punter that can boom the ball and turn over field position and neither team has a kicker that can consistently convert FG's from 50+. Both are very solid units, but not so much so that either has a noticeable advantage here. Both feature dynamic return men, but nothing like a Reggie Bush type returner that will change the game by himself (barring a coverage breakdown by the other team).
Depth: Advantage South Carolina
South Carolina is deeper than Auburn, especially on defense, which could give the 'Cocks an edge if the game is close late in the 4th quarter. This could loom even larger if South Carolina can consistently possess the ball on offense and run a lot more plays than Auburn.
Coaching: Advantage South Carolina
Both have great offensive minds calling the shots, however I give South Carolina a solid advantage with Ellis Johnson over Ted Roof making the defensive calls.
Homefield: Solid Advantage Auburn (duh)
Jordan-Hare isn't quite The Swamp or even Bryant Denny, but it is a tough place to play at night.
Things That Could Really Turn the Game One Way Or the Other:
- If South Carolina's Offensive Line can handle Auburn's DL. If Lattimore gets to the LB level relatively cleanly, he could have a monster day.
- If either DL can put major pass-rush heat on the opposite OL. None of the three QB's that could be featured in this game has shown themselves to make particularly good decisions when under pressure and a few monster sacks/pressures leading to big turnovers will likely decide this game.
Much too close to call, this game will come down to which team makes a couple big plays and a lot of luck. Auburn is going to have trouble consistently moving the chains on offense and will likely need a couple of quick strike cheap scores. South Carolina will likely move the ball consistently, but may have some drive killing sacks and turnovers. Both offenses have big play capability, but will likely make some critical turnovers and 3 and outs. I expect a medium/low scoring game with both teams in the high teens/low 20's in points. If I was forced to make a call, I'd go with USC, but that's nothing from analysis, which says this should be a dead even game, just a hunch. This is what SEC football is all about.
Think I'm wrong? Think I'm right? Want to give your score prediction? Let 'er rip in the comments.