Auburn Football 2010: Reflections on the South Carolina Game

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Auburn Football 2010: Reflections on the South Carolina Game
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Some Positives from This Week’s Game

Auburn starting quarterback Cameron Newton seems to have graduated from the learning permit stage to the driving test stage on the Gus Bus.  He looked poised and confident in the game against South Carolina, as coach Gus Malzahn opened up the playbook just a little wider.

Newton is a legitimate Heisman contender—whether Auburn fans and staff like it or not.

It would be enough to put him in the mix if he were a running back and ran for over 170 yards against a rush defense like South Carolina's.  The fact that he did so as a quarterback, and has about the same number of total yards and more touchdowns than any other contender at this point, solidifies his case even further.

Newton completed 76 percent of his passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns.  Of his few misses, two were obviously dropped.

He is completing 63 percent of his passes for the season and has nine passing touchdowns to just three interceptions.  In four games this year, Newton has 485 rushing yards and 683 passing yards for a total of 1,168 yards of offense and 14 touchdowns.

Those are more yards and touchdowns than Stanford's Andrew Luck, the latest quarterback to be crowned the best in college football.  Luck has 912 passing and 163 rushing yards for a total of 1,075 yards.  He has thrown for 12 touchdowns and has two interceptions thus far.

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, a leader in most of the Heisman hype, has 731 rushing and 713 passing yards for 1,444 total yards.  He has 10 touchdowns and one interception.

So far, Newton has outperformed both Luck and Robinson by a decent margin.

Moreover, Newton’s running did not take away from the production of Auburn's other offensive weapons, but rather, it helped it.  Six Auburn players caught passes in this game and Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer were both effective in running the ball.

Auburn's defense is just as successful.  Its defensive line makes the lives of opposing offensive linemen look miserable and they seem to wear them down as the game goes on.  In the last two games, the oppositions' offensive lines were visibly tuckered out and outmatched in the fourth quarter.

Auburn ran a season high 78 plays while South Carolina only ran 57.  The effects were visible on the South Carolina defense, especially in the fourth quarter.


Room to Improve

Cameron Newton had a marvelous game and deserves many accolades, but it wasn’t a perfect game.  He missed several opportunities downfield and failed to read his receivers and the defense at points in the game.

The defensive backfield began to hawk the ball some in this game, but not nearly enough to get by teams like Arkansas.  There is room for a ton of improvement and yesterday is not soon enough.

Turnovers and penalties once again hurt Auburn.  Most of the penalties were by players who were in their first start, which should improve with experience.  The turnovers were what one would expect to happen given the circumstances.

There were a few sloppy series where Auburn seemed to get a little careless.  They must learn to maintain their focus on the objective.

The offensive line still has not reached its potential and while there is room for improvement in nearly every area, there was marked improvement in many parts of this game.


Some Observations on the Game

The Ole Ball Coach came to the plains and unleashed his powerful rushing attack on the Tigers.  They ran the ball at the Auburn defense 28 times and came away with 79 yards for a 2.82 yard average per carry.  Their leading rusher Marcus Lattimore gained 33 yards, averaging 2.36 yards per carry.

The one-dimensional Gamecocks were forced to push the ball down the field with the passing game.  The Auburn defense was shredded for 19 out of 29 South Carolina completions, for a total of 309 passing yards and three touchdowns.

While this might seem to be cause for concern, it is Auburn's goal to make the opposition one-dimensional.

South Carolina only ran 57 offensive plays in the game and lost a combined 50 yards on eight of them.  The Gamecocks ended with 384 yards of total offense compared to 492 yards for Auburn.  Both offenses were close to their seasonal averages.

In a very questionable move, Steve Spurrier rolled the dice by replacing his veteran starting quarterback with a true freshman who promptly threw two interceptions, thus insuring Auburn's impending Auburn victory.  However, this did not cost the Gamecocks the game since Auburn already had the lead, but it prevented them from any chance of a comeback.

This year's South Carolina team could well be the best in its history and is certainly the best of the Steve Spurrier era.  They will give Florida a run for the title in the east.

Turnovers and penalties killed the Auburn team once again.  Neither turnover was entirely preventable, and simply part of the game.  Auburn earned six penalties for 41 yards which was a huge improvement, but still costly at times.

There is an underlying factor that is beginning to emerge.  When Auburn forces a team to be one-dimensional by taking the rushing game away, it allows them to control the time of possession.  Auburn had nine more first downs and over two more minutes of possession time than South Carolina was able to muster.

In addition, only six Auburn drives were stopped without resulting in points, but there were also two uncharacteristic missed field goals and two forced punts.  Auburn also had two turnovers that resulted in touchdowns for South Carolina.

This was a game that was much closer on paper than it ever truly was.  An opportunistic Gamecock team was given half their points by Auburn turnovers.  Auburn had three drives of over 12 plays and three touchdown drives of over 70 yards.

Auburn had 158 yards of conventional rushing in the game with another 176 yards of rushing added by quarterback Cameron Newton.  Before this game, South Carolina had by far the best rush defense statistics in the SEC; the Gamecocks now rank eighth in the conference.

All in all, this was a very good outing for both teams that can be built upon for the future. 

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