With 1:38 remaining on the fourth quarter game clock, a struggling Auburn Tiger offense used a familiar play—this time with a twist—to upset the tenth ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. Quarterback, Barrett Trotter and tight end, Phillip Lutzenkirchen, teamed up on a pass play for the go ahead score and the Auburn nation held its collective breath while the defense held on as the final seconds ticked away.
The play used to defeat South Carolina was the same one used by Cam Newton last season to give the Tigers a lead over Alabama. On Saturday, the play worked again, but with an ending made for this Auburn football season of 2011. Just as Lutzenkirchen reached the end zone, the ball was knocked out of his grasp by a South Carolina defender.
Fortunately, the ball took an Auburn bounce and Lutzenkirchen was able to fall on it and cradle it away before rolling out of bounds. From my seat, over all the noise, I'm sure I heard Rod Bramblett of the Auburn Radio Network exclaim, TOUCHDOWN...AUBURN!
The Auburn Tigers had earned a 16-13 lead over South Carolina but would an Auburn defense, who entered the game ranked 112th out of 120 FBS teams in total defense, stop the Gamecocks from finding a little comeback magic of their own? That was the question coming into the game and remained the question on everyone's mind as Auburn kicked off with a slim three point lead.
An aggressive and hungry Auburn defense would hold its ground to complete the victory, capping off its best performance as a collective unit of the 2011 season. The Tiger defense held South Carolina running back and Heisman hopeful, Marcus Lattimore, to a very modest 66 yards of rushing on 17 attempts. Lattimore did his best work in the third quarter scoring his only touchdown of the day.
Equally important, the Auburn defense applied constant pressure to the South Carolina passing attack and quarterback, Stephen Garcia, was on the run for a lot of the day. By game's end, the obstinate Tiger defense held Garcia to just nine completed passes, accumulated three quarterback sacks, captured two interceptions and recovered a fumble.
As good as the Auburn defense played, the offense failed to score points, which will be a critical factor in upcoming games with future SEC opponents. Much of the blame for a faltering offense seems to be riding on the shoulder's of Auburn quarterback, Barrett Trotter. Is he truly to be blame for the offensive woes of the present or is the inexperienced line providing insufficient pass protection.
In the first two games combined, Trotter completed 23 passes in 46 attempts with one interception and five touchdowns. In the last three games combined, Trotter has only completed 40 passes out of 76 attempts with four interceptions and three touchdowns. These statistics cannot rest on the offensive line alone. Quicker decision making and faster thinking on the part of the Auburn quarterback must improve in order for the offense to put up better numbers against better upcoming opponents.
Auburn attempted twenty three passes. Trotter was sacked five times. He was flushed out the pocket and forced to make throws out of bounce at least three times. These statistics are not getting the job done and the offensive line must take more credit.
Overall, the offense put up fairly respectable numbers, gaining 112 yards in the air and 246 on the ground. Most of the rushing yardage came through menial Tiger ball carrier, Michael Dyer. The sophomore running back picked up 141 yards on a career high 41 carries.
On the opposite side of the field, South Carolina running back, Marcus Lattimore, failed to produce for the third time against the Auburn Tigers. The Heisman hopeful who chose South Carolina over Auburn rushed for only 66 yards on 17 carries, scoring one touchdown and suffering his first fumble for a loss of the 2011 season. In the three games Lattimore has played against Auburn, he has managed only 183 yards against Auburn while his counterpart, Auburn running back, Michael Dyer, gained 305 yards in the three meetings.
Freshman quarterback, Kiehl Frazier, entered the game against South Carolina more times than he has in any previous games this year. As a result, he electrified the offense with his running ability. Frazier picked up 48 yards on the ground on nine carries and helped keep the winning drive alive by running for a first down on a third down try. We can only suspect that his role on the offense will continue to increase as the games progress.
Special teams coach, Jay Boulware, and the Auburn special teams units deserve a lot of credit for the upset victory against South Carolina. Auburn punter, Steven Clark, deserves high praise for placing punts outside the goal line and keeping South Carolina pinned down with terrible field for position for most of the first half, and some of the second.
Before Auburn entered Williamson-Brice Stadium to take on its second SEC opponent of the year, football fans everywhere, especially within the Auburn family, had perused and denounced both the Tiger defense and its coordinator, Ted Roof. Some fans are actually clamoring for a replacement? Have they so soon forgotten that Ted Roof led the defense to a National Championship last season?
Most likely, many football fans expected to see some sort of offensive shoot out between Steve Spurrier and Gus Malzhan. Instead, a defensive struggle ensued with both offenses playing sloppy football. Auburn won because they played better defense and had much better special teams.
Give much credit to Auburn coaches for formulating a game plan to manage the clock and also, to manage the offense of South Carolina. With five games experience under their belt and record of 4-1, Auburn has moved back into the AP poll at the 15th spot. How long they will remain a ranked team will certainly depend on how well coaches can keep the defense where it is, but improve the offense.
Stronger and better SEC opponents litter the schedule until the end of the season. Can this young Auburn team find a way to upset more of those teams awaiting the Tigers? Tune in to find out!