Cockeyed: Auburn Tigers Hold On To Beat South Carolina, 35-27

Nathan DealCorrespondent ISeptember 26, 2010

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 25:  Emory Blake #80 of the Auburn Tigers breaks a tackle by Rodney Paulk #45 of the South Carolina Gamecocks on the way to a touchdown at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

So much for the nation's top-ranked rush defense.

Led by 334 yards rushing (176 by Heisman candidate Cameron Newton), the Auburn offense moved the ball almost at will in the second half, turning what was once a 20-7 deficit into a 35-27 victory over the No. 12-ranked Gamecocks of South Carolina. This came a week after Auburn overcame a 17-0 lead by Clemson late in the first half.

South Carolina had their opportunities, but four final-quarter turnovers killed the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier (known as the Ol' Ball Coach), who is now 10-6 against Auburn and 4-4 in Jordan-Hare, pulled starting quarterback Garcia in the fourth quarter after he had fumbled twice before suffering an apparently minor injury.

In came Connor Shaw, who moved the ball a little bit, but threw two big interceptions to linebacker Josh Bynes and cornerback Demond Washington.

All in all, there's no doubt this is the biggest win for Auburn since Gene Chizik has arrived. When the polls come out Sunday afternoon, expect the Tigers near or maybe even breaking the top 10. Auburn should roll easily over UL-Monroe, so expect the Tigers to be 5-0 heading to Kentucky.

Here are my grades:

Offense: A-

They had some really bad fumbles in the first half that gave USC two touchdowns in the end. Still, for most of the second half, Auburn's offense moved almost at will, and they weren't too shabby at simply moving the ball in the first half either.

Auburn had 29 first downs, 494 yards of offense, 334 rushing yards against the nation's (former) top-ranked rush defense, and a TOP of 31:08 (they had just 24 minutes against Clemson). Mike Dyer outplayed Marcus Lattimore, gaining 100 yards.

Cam Newton solidified his place in the Heisman race and his team's place in the BCS race by going 16-21 for 158 yards and two TDs and rushing for 176 yards and three more scores. Against a talented defense like USC's, Auburn should be proud of this offensive outburst.

Defense: B

They had some serious issues in the first half, as they gave up an 80-yard drive in the first quarter and after two Auburn fumbles, couldn't stop Garcia and co. from near midfield on both occasions. There was also that disaster play after Auburn took a 21-20 lead in the third when Zac Ethridge saw the ball in the air to an open receiver and he continued to run backwards. That was a "D'oh!" moment for him, for sure.

But in the second half, they played strongly outside of that three-play disaster, forcing four turnovers, a QB change, and just seven points (on the three-play disaster...but I digress). Alshon Jeffrey was unstoppable with his significant height advantage over the corners, and yet they shut him down when it was the most important. Marcus Lattimore?

He had 33 yards on 14 carries (just three carries in the second half). He was a non-factor. Actually, USC's entire running game was a non-factor, gaining just 79 yards. He was...dare I say..."Ingramed." He ran into a tenacious front seven for Auburn. They gave up 27 points and 384 yards, but looking beyond the numbers, Auburn's defense turned in a solid effort, so a B it is.

Special Teams: C+

What's up with Byrum? I can understand missing the 53-yard attempt, but clanking the chip shot? Still, in a funny way, that might have helped Auburn more than it hurt them.

Byrum did go 5-for-5 on PATs, and he's a good kicker, so look for him to rebound. Demetruce McNeal made anybody who forgot to get a No. 2 Cam Newton jersey and stuck with their No. 12 "QBs of years past" jersey proud, recording four tackles on kickoff coverage.

Auburn gave up some solid returns to USC and had a few good ones themselves. There are a few areas that need some improvement, because special teams was down Saturday night.

Overall: A-

A huge win for Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers. A victory on national TV over the No. 12-ranked team in the land at home led by a big night from Cam Newton should send a message to the SEC: This is Auburn, and we're not backing down. This team has more heart than any I can remember.

The offense seemed to get back on track in the second half, which was arguably the most complete half of football Auburn has played in a long time. Auburn is 4-0 and, due to SEC wins and the alphabet, is the new leader of the SEC West.

Player of the game - Cam Newton: Cam for Heisman? Maybe. He ran for 176 yards and three touchdowns, threw for 158 yards and two more scores, and led the Auburn offense to their most successful outing against tough competition. Cam fired balls in there, and only had one poor decision passing the ball all night.

Stat of the game:
Four. That's the number of turnovers Auburn forced in the final 15 minutes.

What this win means:
It means Auburn is 4-0 and 2-0 in SEC play. This is huge because every game counts in the SEC, and to win the West, you must win these big games. Auburn is now a top-10 team in the AP Poll, checking in at No. 10. Auburn is focused on going up nine more spots.