ATLANTA, Ga- As they left the Georgia Dome, something down deep spoke quietly that it wasn’t their time, yet. For the South Carolina Gamecocks, getting beat by the Auburn Tigers 56-17 in the SEC Championship game was a night they would never forget.
Sometimes teams don’t play their best, other times the opponent is just better. There was nothing stopping Auburn as they made their trail through Atlanta for the SEC Championship then to the National Championship.
Nine months later, the two teams meet again. This time in Columbia and there won’t be a Cam Newton to mystify the South Carolina defense. South Carolina is favored by 9.5 points.
Both teams have struggled early. Auburn had to fight off a pesky Utah State team in their opener while USC gave up 17 points early in the first half to a less talented East Carolina team. Auburn has won all three games at home and lost to Clemson on the road.
South Carolina is 4-0 for the first time in a long time but every game has been won by the strength of the defense. Fifth year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia has been inconsistent. Top rated running back Marcus Lattimore has been powerful and reliable in the fourth quarter.
Coach Spurrier can hardly explain how his team is winning with so few things working right on offense. For the first time in many years, USC has many skilled players giving more opportunities for big plays on defense and special teams. This team is not just an offense that scores points but a total team effort for putting points on the board.
The Auburn game is dangerous for South Carolina. No team schemed better on the Gamecocks than Auburn in 2010. Gus Malzahn spread it out and with so much offensive deception, the Gamecocks were vulnerable to many big plays. Even when Cam Newton came out, QB Barrett Trotter kept the Tigers moving the chains.
Auburn will attack the quarterback from every position and try to slow down Marcus Lattimore. Garcia hates the blitz which means he will see a whole lot of it. Georgia, Navy and Vandy all tried to stop Lattimore too but the field is just too big for a running back that follows his blockers so well. Lattimore just seems to get stronger as the game goes on. He doesn't go down with arm tackles.
The Auburn offense is built to score points. Gene Chizik will put the ball in running back Michael Dyer’s hands as many times as possible. Chizik is an extremely competitive coach and he wants Dyer to have more yards than Lattimore. Don't forget Lattimore was the big fish that got away from Chizik. Nobody wants Dyer to do better in this game than Chizik.
The South Carolina defense will have its hands full with multiple alignments, personnel changes and a fast paced offense that will keep D coordinator Ellis Johnson on his toes.
Being on the road is always a good test for a young team but it was costly for Auburn against a very good Clemson team. Auburn may have won that game at home. There is plenty of talent on this Auburn team but it's harder to win on the road. The South Carolina fan base wants to beat Auburn to reconcile the two tough losses in 2010 and an onside kick from Tuberville that stole a victory from Spurrier on the last visit. The South Carolina fans will be energized.
According to my sources, South Carolina has had a very good week of practices and expects to play better offensively this week. Auburn too is preparing for a good fight and working to simplify the defense.
No doubt, this game goes down to fourth quarter. Mostly what this Auburn team knows is winning big games. But South Carolina is on a mission. Gamecocks 31, Tigers 24.