Auburn Football: Five Things To Look For Against South Carolina
A third straight ESPN primetime game for Auburn (6:45 central, ESPN) brings the South Carolina Gamecocks to town. Both teams are 3-0 overall and 1-0 in conference play.
Both teams are ranked in the top 20. Both have survived close games and tests in SEC games.
One difference, however, is that South Carolina hasn't gone on the road yet. They will be tested by what should be an electric atmosphere in Auburn this weekend.
Here are some of the key things to watch for on Saturday night.
The Running Back Battle
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
This won't so much be about Michael Dyer vs. Marcus Lattimore, though that will be one intriguing storyline on Saturday.
Who will run the ball and control the clock more effectively? Steve Spurrier realizes what a horse he has in Lattimore, as he gave him the ball 37 times against Georgia. Auburn has been emphasizing their running game, referring to the amount of carries and yardage gained by Michael Dyer, Mario Fannin, and Onterio McCalebb.
Cam Newton and Stephen Garcia will be a part of the rushing battle as well. Both offensive lines have difficult challenges across the ball from them. Auburn's strength has been their defensive front, while the Gamecocks always have a solid rush defense under Ellis Johnson.
The rushing battle will be a big key to Saturday's game.
Time of Possession
Auburn Running Back Michael Dyer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Gus Malzahn's offense is often one of quick strikes and short possessions. But this season has shown that it can be most effective when chewing up the clock and providing rest for the defense.
Against Mississippi State, Auburn actually won time of possession 31:48 to 28:12. That's the reason the defense could hold up repeatedly in the fourth quarter. Their touchdown drives were each eight-play, four-minute possessions. Even when they didn't score, they gained first downs.
Against Clemson, the first half time of possession was terrible. Clemson had the ball more than twice as long as Auburn did. It was amazing that the defense only gave up 17 points. But then in the second half (when Auburn moved the ball and scored on three straight possessions), time of possession was about even.
Obviously, Auburn will take quick strike touchdowns if they can get them. But if Auburn's defense is to stand up to Marcus Lattimore and Stephen Garcia in the fourth quarter, they will need to have had some rest during the game. If Auburn can sustain some drives, that would help tremendously.
So watch the time of possession on Saturday. Auburn doesn't have to win it, but keeping things close to equal would be a big step towards a "W."
Stephen Garcia's Composure
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Stephen Garcia has never won a game that he has started on the road in the SEC. How he handles a raucous Jordan Hare Stadium is a huge key to Saturday night's SEC tilt.
He's a dual threat quarterback (though not as effective running as Cameron Newton) and has plenty of experience to get the job done. He just has to take the next step on a big stage on the road.
He has modest numbers this season, but the arrival of Marcus Lattimore has made the offense much more balanced, and therefore, more effective. You'd have to think Auburn's gameplan will be to limit Lattimore's yardage, and force Garcia to beat them.
If the game ends up in his hands in the fourth quarter, it will be a very important result to the career of Stephen Garcia. We all know Steve Spurrier's quick trigger when it comes to removing quarterbacks.
The Ol' Ball Coach feels this is his best chance to win the SEC East; he won't give Garcia too much of a leash if he struggles in this one.
Auburn's Cornerbacks Vs. South Carolina's Wideouts
Auburn Cornerback Demond Washington
South Carolina has what look like basketball players for wide receivers. Alshon Jeffrey is 6'4", Tori Gurley is 6'5", and D.L. Moore is 6'4".
Neiko Thorpe, Demond Washington, and T'Sharvan Bell will have quite a task on Saturday to defend passes against these talented receivers. Keep an eye specifically on Alshon Jeffrey (No. 1). He has an unbelievable skill set and will undoubtedly be very involved in Steve Spurrier's gameplan.
The First 10 Minutes
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The first few minutes of this game will be crucial. Auburn won't be able to go down early again this week and come out on top.
If the Tigers can get off to a good start, they'll keep the crowd into the game and put some pressure on a South Carolina team that hasn't done much on the road.
On the other hand, if the Gamecocks can jump out to an early lead, they'll feel less pressure and gain a ton of confidence for the rest of the game. After each team has had a possession or two, we should have a good idea of how the game will play out.
Enjoy the game! Comment below on what your keys to an Auburn victory are.