Iron Bowl: Pay Attention South Carolina, This Is How You Beat Auburn
Of all the game footage that South Carolina's coaching staff and players will watch and break down in preparation for next week's SEC Championship Game against Auburn, the Gamecocks will be most interested in this week's Alabama-Auburn game.
Why? Because the Tide is about to show the 'Cocks a blueprint on how to defeat the Tigers.
Superficially, at least, Alabama and South Carolina are similar teams. Each has a decent if not always spectacular quarterback, each has a good running game and each has a bevy of wide outs who can make plays (and one standout WR).
Each has a legendary coach with national championship credentials.
In the first meeting between USC and Auburn, the Tigers prevailed by a touchdown, while 'Bama lost to the Gamecocks by two TDs.
But the Crimson Tide coaching staff has analyzed Auburn's season to date, and they know the team's weaknesses. Despite having the nuisance of having to play a scrimmage against Georgia State this past week, Alabama has had two weeks to get ready for Auburn.
This is how 'Bama will do it, and South Carolina will do well to follow the Tide's lead if they want to have any hope of representing the SEC in a BCS bowl.
So, get our your pens and pencils, coach Spurrier; class is in session.
Hit 'Em a Lick-Multiple Times-and Contain
Nobody would say that Kentucky is Auburn's (or Alabama's) equal.
Yet, the Wildcats almost pulled of the improbable upset, only to lose by a last second Tiger field goal.
How'd they do it?
By playing Auburn a tough, physical game. They got huge hits on Tiger running backs and blockers and wore down the faster, stronger Auburn team.
In fact, against MSU and Clemson, Cam Newton ran for less than 140 yards combined because of the physicality of those games.
In fact, the same went in the cases of Mississippi State (17-14, Auburn) and Clemson (27-24, Auburn in OT); both of those squads also put hats on Tiger running backs and receivers.
Which teams in the SEC have the bodies and stamina and athletes to inflict similar treatment on Auburn for four quarters? Well, Alabama is certainly one. Look for the Tide to hit the Tigers again and again.
Marcel Dareus and company will try to copy Kentucky's scheme; they, like the Wildcats, will work to keep Cameron Newton between the tackles and refuse him the outside.
The Tide's mantra, and it should be South Carolina's as well, will be contain, contain, contain.
Attack The Tiger Wide Receivers; Make Newton Throw INTs
The other item shared by Mississippi State, Clemson and Kentucky in their games against Auburn is that these three teams pushed Auburn's receivers off their routes and created turnovers.
Cam Newton threw interceptions in all three games - the only other games in which he threw a pick were the Georgia and ULM games.
Alabama's defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and head coach Nick Saban can create a defensive scheme with the best of 'em. The packages and coverages Auburn will face should be among the most complex the Tigers have seen this year.
USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and TOBC can surely put their heads together to find a scheme that will tie up Auburn's defenders and confuse the quarterback once they see how 'Bama does it.
After all, they did the same against the Tide and have seen the best Auburn has to offer earlier in the year. And the one thing you don't do to Steve Spurrier is beat him twice in a row.
Penalties Spell Trouble For Auburn
True, penalties spell trouble for most teams, but when Auburn gets hit with sloppy play, it often means the other team has a chance to beat them.
Of the 68 penalties (for 624 yards) called against the Tigers, almost a third have come in their three closest games (MSU, Clemson, UK). And out of eleven games played by the Tigers, that's a good chunk of negative real estate given up.
In fact, Auburn gave up almost 100 penalty yards against Clemson, their closet contest to date.
Like most things in football, penalties are only an indicator, not necessarily a major factor, of a team's play. And while neither 'Bama nor USC can force Auburn into committing fouls, it's still good for each team to realize a penalized Auburn team means a beatable Auburn team.
Stop The Fast Start
Let's look at some quick statistics and then draw an equally quick conclusion, shall we?
Auburn's first quarter time of possession averages just over six minutes, almost a full minute less than any other quarter. This indicates they score quickly, since...
Auburn's third-down conversion rate in the first quarter is 60 percent, their best quarter.
In their two closest games, Mississippi State and Clemson, Auburn scored only one first-quarter touchdown.
44 plays by Auburn were of 20 yards or more in the first half of games; only 24 big plays came in the second half.
Stop the Tigers from scoring early.
In fact, Auburn has scored 270 first half points as opposed to only 197 in the second frame. If you can hold 'em early, you can beat 'em late.
So, what Alabama (and, in turn USC) should do is get the ball first and have a sustained drive for points, because the Tigers tend to wear down in close games.
You Can't Beat Auburn by Passing
When USC played Auburn earlier this year, the Gamecocks threw for 305 yards. They rushed for 78. Final score? Auburn 35, South Carolina 27.
Conversely, Clemson ran the ball for 187 yards and lost by only three in overtime. Oh, by the way; Clemson completed only seven passes all night.
Running the ball, as we all know, keeps your defense fresh, keeps their offense off the field, it eats up the clock and it can demoralize the opponent.
There's a lesson to be learned here, and Alabama is the prime team to learn by example. Who better to gash the Tigers for extreme rushing yardage than Fast and Furious?
And then, a week later, watch as Marcus Lattimore follows in Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram's shoes and gains big yardage against Auburn's defensive front.
If a team could beat Auburn by passing, then why did Arkansas lose by 22 after passing for 428 yards? Why did Arkansas State lose by 26 after racking up 323 passing yards?
Both of these teams lost because they couldn't run the ball.
The Hat seemed to understand this; LSU had only 127 passing yards and was in the game against Auburn until late.
'Bama will show the way this week. Look for the Wildcat, the Pistol and every conceivable run formation the Tide can show.
If we see the pass, Alabama's doomed.
Win The First-Down Battle
Again, it's another small but perhaps telling statistic that indicates when Auburn plays in a close game.
We normally think of an explosive offense with the Tigers, and it is one, for sure, especially when it comes to racking up first downs. Auburn has won the first-down battle against every team but two.
One of those teams was Arkansas, and the game was close until the last quarter. There, the Tigers lost the first-down battle, 30-25 but won the game handily.
The other was Clemson. In the Tigers' biggest struggle to date, the Clemson version of the Tigers had 10 more first downs than the Auburn Tigers (27-17).
Get first downs, get more of them than Auburn, and you stand a much better chance of winning.
We feel McElroy will lead the Tide on several long, slow, marches to scores against Auburn. In doing so, Alabama will show South Carolina how to beat the Tigers, too.