Before the season began, this Week 9 showdown appeared likely to be a clash of SEC heavyweights. As it turns out, that won't exactly be the case when No. 5 Auburn takes on South Carolina.
The Tigers continue their roller-coaster season with an outside chance of earning a berth in the College Football Playoff despite suffering a loss to Mississippi State in Week 8. The Gamecocks quickly fell down the ranks after a Week 1 loss to Texas A&M, and two more losses to Missouri and Kentucky saw the team fall out of the Top 25 altogether.
South Carolina is still searching for wins to become bowl eligible, and Auburn can't be caught looking ahead at a brutal remaining schedule that includes games at Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. Will the Tigers roll, or will they be caught in a trap game?
SEC contests can be overwhelmingly unpredictable, and these teams' seasons hang in the balance.
Turnovers always play a crucial part in the success or failure of any team in any given week. Expect that statement to ring true on Saturday, as both of these teams were handed recent losses due to a lack of ball security.
South Carolina was upset by Kentucky in Week 6 due in part to quarterback Dylan Thompson's three interceptions. His third pick of the day was nabbed by Alvin Dupree deep in Gamecocks territory and returned for an easy touchdown. That score wound up being the difference-maker in a seven-point loss.
While the Gamecocks bounced back in Week 8 against Furman, losing two fumbles in that contest doesn't exactly provide plenty of confidence moving forward.
Auburn suffered its first loss to Mississippi State in Week 8 during a sloppy game in Starkville. The Tigers turned the ball over a total of four times, as quarterback Nick Marshall threw two interceptions and fumbles were lost by D'haquille Wilson and Jamoral Graham.
The Tigers lost by 15 points; however, that margin could have been significantly worse had the Bulldogs not accumulated four turnovers of their own.
Here's a look at turnovers by game for both teams:
|South Carolina and Auburn Turnovers by Game|
|Team||Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Week 6||Week 7||Week 8|
The key to avoiding turnovers for both of these teams is to establish the running game early. South Carolina has a great two-headed attack with Mike Davis and David Williams, while Auburn has a mix of the versatile Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne.
Stopping the Run
While both teams will look to establish the run in an effort to limit turnovers, they will also be attempting to stifle their opponent's ground game. However, that may be easier in theory for these defenses.
Take a glance at a side-by-side comparison of both teams' rushing offenses:
|Auburn and South Carolina Rush Offense in 2014|
Auburn continues to be a run-first team. Marshall isn't the most developed passer, and he's of better use as a complement to the running game than the other way around. The Tigers have a handful of viable ball-carriers, and they could have a field day against the South Carolina run defense.
South Carolina is ranked 89th in the nation against the run, allowing an average of 181.7 yards per game. The team's struggles in that department were wildly apparent against Furman. Despite the lack of a passing game altogether, Furman was still able to generate 211 yards and a score on 39 carries—an average of 5.4 yards per rush—against the Gamecocks.
Furman's Hank McCloud is a good ball-carrier; however, the team isn't near as explosive or versatile as Auburn.
The Tigers have fared nicely against the run this season, ranking 25th in the nation, allowing an average of 120.7 yards per game. The team is coming off an uncharacteristic performance after giving up 223 yards on the ground to Mississippi State; however, 121 of those yards were racked up by quarterback Dak Prescott.
Without a running threat at the quarterback position, the Gamecocks may find it a little more difficult to get their ground game going against the Auburn run defense.
When: Saturday, October 25
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama
Channel: SEC Network
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 65
- Point Spread: Auburn -17.5
Team Injury Reports
|Auburn Injury Report|
|South Carolina Injury Report|
|Kaiwan Lewis||LB||10/19/2014||Probable||one-game suspension served|
|Na'Ty Rodgers||T||10/19/2014||Probable||one-game suspension served|
Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.
If establishing the run leads to eliminating turnovers and a victory in this SEC clash, the advantage most certainly goes to Auburn. The team's ability to use the option and get around a porous South Carolina run defense will allow the Tigers to control the ball and the clock for a vast majority of the game.
Meanwhile, South Carolina could be forced into throwing situations more often than it would like, and that could lead to some issues for Thompson against a solid defense.
Expect Auburn to get out to an early lead, forcing turnovers and defeating the Gamecocks by a substantial margin on Saturday evening.
Prediction: Auburn 45, South Carolina 20