Auburn Football: Struggling Run Defense Faces Tough Test

Matthew BrennanCorrespondent IISeptember 29, 2011

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 04:  Running back Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks runs with the ball during the 2010 SEC Championship against the Auburn Tigers at Georgia Dome on December 4, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

The inability of Auburn to stop the rush has been a constant in the 2011 season. Right now, the Tigers are ranked ahead of only eight teams in the nation, with opponents running for 226.5 yards per game. Only three teams have given up more than Auburn’s 906 rushing yards.

This Saturday, the Tigers run defense will face its toughest test yet in South Carolina. The Gamecocks feature one of college football’s best running backs in Marcus Lattimore. The sophomore Heisman candidate is second in the nation with 600 yards, along with eight touchdowns.

Lattimore was a target of Auburn coming out high school, but opted to play for South Carolina.

“He’s everything that we saw he was coming out of high school, said Auburn head coach Gene Chizik during his Tuesday press conference. “He’s explosive, he’s fast, he’s got great vision. And he can get there in a hurry. He brings pretty much everything to the table.”

“He’s the very best I’ve seen in the league thus far," added cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley to “Period. End of story. A great running back.”

Obviously, if Auburn is going to have a chance at getting a win on Saturday, stopping Lattimore will be key. He comes into Saturday averaging 26.5 carries per game, so expect the Gamecocks to put the ball in his hands early and often against Auburn.

The Tigers managed to limit Lattimore last season in two wins over the Gamecocks, but that was a very different defense than what Auburn will bring to Columbia on Saturday afternoon.

The best hope for the Tigers on Saturday might be to expect Lattimore to get his yards while shutting down the rest of the South Carolina offense. The Gamecocks’ passing game has been prone to turnovers early this season, with quarterback Stephen Garcia leading the nation in interceptions. He threw four against Vanderbilt last Saturday and was benched for Connor Shaw, who has also been ineffective so far in 2011.

Auburn has experienced good fortune with interceptions so far, returning two of their four picks for touchdowns. Taking similar advantage of a mistake by South Carolina’s erratic quarterbacks could be key to Auburn’s hopes. A big game from Lattimore on Saturday seems very likely, but that doesn’t mean that the Tigers won’t be able to come up with a victory.