The last meeting of these two teams ended with the Auburn Tigers embarrassing Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks in last year’s SEC Championship game, 56-17.
The tables are considerably turned in 2011, with the Tigers fielding a young and growing group of football players, and the team that won the BCS National Championship is all but gone.
That doesn't mean they can't pose a threat to the 2011 South Carolina team, but the Gamecocks of this year are almost intact from last year.
They are 4-0 on the season with wins over East Carolina, Georgia, Navy and Vanderbilt. That part of the schedule itself begs the question: Have they really faced a good team and are they the powerhouse that rates them a No. 10 spot in the AP Poll?
Maybe, maybe not. The game with Auburn this weekend could help decide some of that, as they will definitely want to provide some payback for last year’s loss—at least in Steve Spurrier’s mind. Whether he can communicate that same passion to his team is still up in the air.
But, there are some things about South Carolina that should be looked at—some good, some bad. And, that perspective is all in the eye of the beholder.
Garcia and Spurrier, a rare moment between them
This position is supposed to be a forte for Steve Spurrier, as he played it and as he coached it. Yet, this year, the QB spot has him perplexed to say the least.
There has been a question mark next to this spot since the season began. Stephen Garcia, the fifth-year veteran in the role, has had some problems on and off the field. Tempestuous is probably the right word to use for the relationship between Garcia and Spurrier.
Garcia served a suspension for alleged hard partying the night before the championship game last year—the fifth suspension he has been assessed.
If you know Steve Spurrier, he is a disciplined head coach who typically doesn’t put up with that kind of behavior.
However, on the field Garcia puts together a fine performance—sometimes.
Before this season began, he had the most passing yards of returning quarterbacks in the SEC with 3,059 in 2010. He completed 17-of-20 passes last year to beat Alabama and performed equally well against other conference powerhouses back then.
Last week against Vanderbilt, he passed for 228 yards, but threw four interceptions and had Spurrier throwing his headset within the first four minutes of the game.
Connor Shaw is a good boy, but not as good a quarterback as Garcia. However, he has been seeing action, starting in their opener against East Carolina and was brought in when Garcia was pulled with 12:00 left in the fourth quarter of the Vandy game.
The question over who will be the starting quarterback against Auburn, as in other games, is a secret only Spurrier knows and the rest of us will not know until just before the game.
But, for Auburn fans, the answer to that question could go either way. With Shaw, there’s a better chance the AU defense could overcome, even with their lackluster performance so far this season.
But, with Stephen Garcia, if he’s on, with no interceptions, turn out the lights. If he’s not on his game, count on a few interceptions, which could help turn the game in the Tigers’ favor.
South Carolina has a very good team, across the board. They have some powerful weapons on both sides of the ball; it’s just that they don’t gel as a team.
To be quite frank, on offense, they are incredibly sloppy, with fumbled snaps, false starts, missed assignments, fumbles and more.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia has no communication with his receivers, and his four interceptions in the Vanderbilt game came from a combination of the receiver going opposite of the pass, and just poor judgment on the part of Garcia.
Garcia can’t take all the blame. When Connor Shaw replaced Garcia, Steve Spurrier was throwing his headset because of a poor pass from him as well.
If they haven’t corrected this dynamic by game time, this could go toward Auburn’s advantage.
Perhaps related to the above point is the fact that South Carolina is not putting together exemplary numbers on the offensive side of the ball.
By comparison to previous Auburn opponents this season, the Gamecocks are underperforming some of the notables.
For example, with two teams that Auburn beat, Utah State and Mississippi State, the former is averaging 483.3 yards per game and 42 points; MSU is at 327.25 yards per game and 31 points.
SC is averaging 392 yards per game and 36 points. Against conference teams that average drops to 382 yards per game. I have to thank my colleague Kevin McGrady for those stats, by the way.
Maybe that is insignificant in terms of the kind of defense Auburn has been playing so far, but it is likely relative to the sloppy performance from the Gamecocks offense mentioned in the previous slide.
Marcus Lattimore is a formidable running back, and one of the major threats facing the Tigers this weekend. He is also the potential savior to both of my previous points
But, as a running back his statistics are not that overwhelming.
Last week against Vandy, he only averaged 3.9 yards per carry and got only 77 yards total rushing—certainly not dominating in a Gamecock offensive total of 367 yards, and well below his season average of 5.7 yards.
In the games against Auburn last year he only carried the ball for 33 yards on 16 carries and 84 yards on the same number of carries in the championship game that Auburn dominated. He really didn’t make a difference then.
Yes, that was a totally different Auburn defense I’ll admit, but still not the best defense in the SEC.
But get him in the open field, and Lattimore can kill you with his speed. That was the case this past weekend as Garcia got him the ball in the air for 73 yards on 3 receptions and one TD.
Also, he was able to get open around the left side on a run and once open, scored another of his two TDs on the game
One of the weaknesses of the Gamecocks is that Lattimore has to carry the load pretty much alone. There is no adequate backup at the running back position, which has forced Garcia to the air, and thus interceptions.
Another weakness is the supporting cast, the offense in general. See No. 9 back two slides.
Marcus Lattimore cannot be discounted, however. Auburn will need to contain him, which seems unlikely, unless they can stop him on the edges, one of Auburn’s weak spots on defense.
In preseason, Alshon Jeffery was thought to be the major threat for the Gamecocks at wide receiver.
After all, last year he amassed 1,517 yards on 80 receptions with nine touchdowns for an average of 17.2 yards per reception.
This season, his average hasn’t suffered, but he only has 246 yards in four games and one touchdown.
Maybe the teams are keying on him better. But for some reason, he just hasn’t proved to be the target for Garcia or Shaw, only catching two passes last week against Vandy for 34 yards.
In his defense, some of the intended receptions, with throws from Garcia, came at the hesitance and just poor decision-making of the quarterback.
Auburn cannot dismiss his performance however, because he can be dangerous, especially if Garcia happens to be on his game.
Maybe the double and triple coverage he has been getting might be a clue for Auburn, not to mention their other key receiver Ace Sanders, along with Marcus Lattimore.
South Carolina’s defense is probably the best buttoned-up part of their game.
In their first four games, the defense scored three touchdowns on plays they clearly made happen.
Rushing the passer, they are able to strip the ball and score on recovered fumbles.
On the outside their pass rush is big, fast and menacing, led by DE Devin Taylor, 6’7” and 260 pounds and DE Jadeveon Clowney, 6’6” and 254.
DE Melvin Ingram also makes a good bookend to both. They strip them and Ingram grabs the ball for the score. Ingram won SEC defensive player of the week for his play against Vandy, in which he scored such a TD.
Here’s some stats from the Vanderbilt game that show exactly how forceful the Gamecocks’ Defense can be.
They came away with six sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, allowed only four yards rushing, 1.1 yards per play and on third-down conversions, Vandy was 1/14.
Auburn will need to run an accelerated offense and by that I mean a no-huddle, quick and decisive offense to make a difference in this game. Oh, getting Michael Dyer around the edge couldn’t hurt as well.
If you take this kind of thing seriously, and some writers do, then I guess this might have some meaning for you.
The SC offense is ranked at 66th in the country and their defense is ranked at 26th.
By comparison, Clemson has a 90th-ranked defense and we know how Auburn’s offense performed against them. They kept up but not when it was important.
For what it’s worth, Auburn is ranked at 104th in defense and 77th in offense. Offense to offense, the Tigers are pretty close to the Gamecocks, but up against the 26th defense, not so much.
Now, that is taking into consideration all the games Auburn has played up to this point, which quite frankly has been a weird season, so take those numbers for what they’re worth.
South Carolina got the dreaded letter from the NCAA. The Notice of Allegations was sent to the University alleging that 12 student athletes received reduced charges from the Whitney Hotel, in violation of certain NCAA bylaws. $14.59 a night for a 2-bedroom suite, with deferred payments would be a suite (sic) deal if we could get it.
If true, South Carolina could face some sanctions, the severity of which is not known at this time.
Typically, this doesn’t affect the play of the football team and the University doesn’t have to respond until December, but it is there, and it’s something that is brought up by the networks in every game covered.
It’s an outside distraction that isn’t needed when a team is trying to win the SEC East at the very least.
Coach Gene Chizik calls them Impostors, things that you shouldn’t pay attention to as a player or coach.
This is only the second time on the road for the Auburn Tigers. We all know how the first one turned out, with the first and only loss to the Clemson Tigers.
This is a young Tiger team, and whether it's because it’s the first time on a plane for some of them, or just being in unfriendly territory for the first time in a college game, a seasoned group would know how to handle it.
Auburn had better hope that they got that out of their system with the visit to Clemson.
Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC can be an intimidating place for visiting teams, in the tradition of all SEC venues.
As unwelcoming as the fans may be to the Tigers, it’s time to get over it and use it to their benefit somehow. As head coach Gene Chizik would say, "Ignore the impostors."
Bruce Ellington is the Gamecocks leading scorer
I'm well aware that I have a basketball photo in this slide. It is simply a testament to the kind of athlete Bruce Ellington is.
He plays two sports for the Gamecocks and just happens to be the leading scorer for Gamecock basketball as well as returning kickoffs for the football team.
The name Ellington probably gives the Auburn defense nightmares at night. Andre Ellington is the Clemson running back that made a great complement to Sammy Watkins and Mike Bellamy’s offensive attack on Auburn.
As it turns out, Bruce Ellington is Andre’s cousin, both coming from Moncks Corner, SC.
Currently he’s returning kickoffs with an average of 22.7 yards per return, which is fourth in the SEC.
He is listed as a wide receiver but sometimes sits in the backfield, running the Wildcat offense.
He has five carries for 14 yards, and two receptions for 15 yards.
Not that impressive, but he’s improving on his kickoff returns every week, so the Tigers will have another Ellington in their sights this week.