SEC Championship Game: 10 Ways South Carolina Can Beat Auburn in Rematch
It's been an absolutely incredible season for both the Auburn Tigers and the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Both teams finished last season with a combined record of 5-10 against the SEC. Now both are looking for SEC titles and one could be looking for a berth in the BCS Championship.
If the first game is any indication, we should be in for a great one. South Carolina went on to the road and took a 20-7 lead before Auburn's Cameron Newton took over and made some big plays for the 35-27 victory.
The Gamecocks, for their part, did not handle adversity well. Four turnovers in the final quarter, South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia benched and Auburn had its second straight miracle at home.
Even with their lofty ranking, Tiger fans know better than to overlook the Gamecocks in the rematch.
So here are ten things to look out for in the SEC Championship that could lead South Carolina towards post-season glory.
Stephen Garcia Avoids Being...Stephen Garcia
To paraphrase The Simpsons: Stephen Garcia is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma wrapped around a Gamecock uniform.
We all know that watching Garcia is thrilling because he is one play away from genius or infamy.
In the first game, Stephen Garcia was unstoppable for most of the game. Yet, with the game on the line, Garcia and the Gamecocks coughed the ball up four times in the fourth quarter to gag away a critical road game.
Garcia's own coach Steve Spurrier has often given his quarterback some tough love over the years, particularly this off-season.
If Garcia can stop himself from making that critical error then South Carolina will be a very tough team to beat.
Of course, we have all heard that before.
Cam Newton's Distraction Gets the Best of Them
Let's face it, Cam Newton is the biggest story in college football.
However, his on-the-field heroics are being overshadowed by intrigue, rumors and reported scandal off-the-field.
Auburn has been able to win despite the distractions so far. Yet, they looked vulnerable against the Georgia Bulldogs and are far from invincible.
The Tigers have played with fire all year long, winning those close games with a bit of luck that championship teams need to have.
Will their luck run out and the distractions over time take their toll on Newton and his teammates?
What if new revelations force Auburn to bench their Heisman front-runner?
Newton may be talented but he is all too human. We have seen what distractions can do to star athletes, particularly in the brutal SEC. There is reason to believe that eventually Auburn could get burned.
Slow Down the Auburn Rushing Game
The SEC Championship match features a battle between strengths.
Auburn has the top rushing game in the SEC, accumulating an average of over 300 yards on the ground this season. In five of Auburn's seven SEC games, quarterback Cam Newton has run for at least 150 yards. When you add in Michael Dyer's 859 yards, the Tigers have rushed for at least 190 yards in every SEC game this season.
On the other hand, South Carolina has the top rushing defense in the SEC. The Gamecocks are the only team to allow, on average, fewer than 100 yards in the conference.
In the first game, despite the numbers, South Carolina got burned for 334 yards on the ground.
57 runs, over 5 yards per attempts and yet the Gamecocks only lost by eight points.
If South Carolina can at least slow down the rushing attack, they have an opportunity for greatness.
The offensive line of the Tigers took a beating by the coaching staff the week before this showdown and played inspired. Can they muster that same effort again?
Will revenge and pride push the Gamecocks towards turning the mismatch around?
Alshon Jeffrey Steps Up Again
Alshon Jeffrey has been a stellar wide receiver all year long for the Gamecocks.
His best performance of the year was against the Tigers where he went for 192 yards and two touchdowns. That was more than all the Auburn receivers combined.
With five games of 100 or more receiving yards, Jeffrey looks to be a lock for All-SEC performer.
If South Carolina looks to take the SEC title, Jeffrey will need to play at a high level. Despite all the big plays and production, the top wide receiver has been held out of the endzone the past two games.
Florida may have provided a blueprint by slowing down Jeffrey, holding him to a season low 53 yards.
Auburn knows the difficult task in front of him, but South Carolina knows that their hopes ride on the shoulders of Jeffrey's big play ability.
The Iron Bowl is one of the greatest rivalries in college sports.
Add in an angry but talented Alabama team that will be unable to defend their BCS title taking on an arch-rival with national championship aspirations and you have the recipe for a great one.
Win or lose, Auburn and its fans will be talking about the Alabama game non-stop.
If the Tigers win then the pressure to compete for a national championship berth could be unbearable.
Oklahoma's embarrassing loss to Kansas State in 2003 and the close call Texas had against Nebraska last season are a few examples that come to mind.
If they lose, the hangover could be difficult to overcome. A championship dream smashed at the hands of their bitter foe will require a tremendous amount of mental fortitude to carry on.
South Carolina certainly hates Clemson but they realize their season and their program are going to be defined by the championship game. They know they can hang with the Tigers and will have revenge on their minds.
Steve Spurrier Outmaneuvers Gene Chizik
So maybe coach Spurrier has been concentrating a bit too much on the golf course than on the gridiron since he arrived at South Carolina.
Sure it took him awhile to do what we all expected him to do.
Nevertheless, even this far into his career, the Ole Ball Coach knows how to get it done.
The Gamecocks have shown an amazing amount of resilience this season. After each of their three losses this season, South Carolina responded not only with a win but a minimum 14-point margin of victory.
Oh, one of those wins also happened to be against Alabama.
Nothing against coach Gene Chizik, he has done a wonderful job this season and deserves credit but who would you rather have coaching your team with everything on the line?
One man has 184 career wins, six SEC championships and a national championship.
The other man has a career record of 24-24 and has more losing seasons in four years as coach as the other has had in 21.
Marcus Lattimore Starts Off Well
We all know the key to success with any team is balance.
Sure, we associate coach Spurrier with the run 'n' gun offense, but the Gamecocks are at their best when they can run the ball. It opens up the play action and helps take some of the pressure off of quarterback Stephen Garcia.
Lattimore has 964 rushing yards this season and 18 touchdowns as a freshman, but he was absolutely shut down in the first Auburn game. With only 14 carries for 33 yards, Lattimore was outclassed in the running back duel by Auburn's Michael Dyer.
It's hard for any freshman to find consistency but Lattimore must perform better in the rematch if South Carolina is going to win the SEC Championship.
Lattimore may be young but he's an emotional leader on the team. His toughness inspires the team and his ability in the open field is really second to none.
Most impressively, the young man has yet to fumble despite 202 carries this season.
If Lattimore can break off one early, he will energize the team and give them confidence in the biggest game of the year.
Win the Battle for Third Down
Now obviously saying something like a team needs to convert third down is like saying a team needs to score points to win.
It may be simple, but Auburn and South Carolina lead the SEC in third down conversions.
The Gamecocks have converted 66-of-126 third downs, the Tigers have succeeded 64 out of 120 times.
Auburn may have success on their side but they also have the dubious distinction of giving up more first downs than any other SEC team.
If South Carolina controls the time of possession, they can certainly win this game.
The Gamecocks got out to a 20-7 lead for a reason. It was the poor play and turnovers in the second half that allowed Auburn to get back into it.
In game one, South Carolina was 4-of-8, Auburn was 7-of-12. This means the Gamecocks got themselves in position to make stops but could not finish the job.
Shore up those mistakes and Cam Newton may run out of time to work his magic.
Pass Defense Avoids Big Plays
Without question, Carolina's biggest weakness would be the porous pass defense.
The Gamecocks are dead last in pass defense in the SEC, allowing over 257 yards per game in the air.
Fortunately for South Carolina, Auburn prefers to pound the rock. Nevertheless, the secondary needs to avoid being exposed on one of the biggest stages.
It would be foolish to think that the Gamecock secondary will play out of their minds. They will undoubtedly bend, but will they break?
Interceptions can always be the equalizer in the pass game, but South Carolina only has six interceptions on the year.
Amazingly though, those interceptions have gone for 129 yard, the third best average in the conference.
If South Carolina's secondary can make a play or two of their own, this could be their time.
Auburn's Penalties Will Catch Up to Them
Auburn may be a great team, but they have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot.
The Tigers are the second most penalized team in the SEC. Worse yet, they have allowed 23 third down conversions via penalties.
That's nearly twice as much as any other SEC team.
South Carolina, in contrast, is the second least penalized team in the SEC. The Tigers have 230 more penalty yards this season than their SEC Championship opponent.
In a game where both teams are loaded with talent, penalties and turnovers will make or break games.
Turnovers proved to be the difference in game one.
Penalties could be the difference in game two.