2010 SEC Championship
Auburn vs. USC, Part 2
SEC Championship: Part
One. The Overview
Players to Watch: It's not a stretch to say that Marcus Lattimore is to the South Carolina season what Cam Newton is to Auburn's. The star freshman has been everything to the run to the SEC title game, and when he's not rumbling well, the Gamecocks sputter. Stephen Garcia is turning in a terrific season, but he's not the type of player who can carry the team by himself to a win a big game like this. In the three losses this year -- Auburn, Kentucky, and Arkansas – Lattimore was held to 33, 79, and 11 yards, respectively. He missed the Vanderbilt game hurt, and he wasn't needed much in the 41-13 win over Southern Miss, but in the biggest wins, he tore off 212 yards and three scores against Florida, 182 yards and two touchdown against Georgia, and 184 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee. Those were the three games South Carolina had to have to win the East, and he came through.
Trying to stop Lattimore, and as the star of a great Auburn defensive front, junior Nick Fairley will be looking to show why he might be the best defensive lineman in America and should end up winning the Outland and the Bednarik. The 6-5, 298-pounder is built more to be a 3-4 end than a pure tackle, but he's an athletic interior pass rusher who was dominant at the JUCO level before coming to Auburn and shining in the rotation last year. He has gone from good to unstoppable, making 51 tackles on the year with 9.5 sacks, an SEC-leading 20 tackles for loss, and with a dominant performance against Alabama on the résumé. He only made four tackles against the Tide, but he came up with two sacks, a key forced fumble deep in Tiger territory, and a slew of pressures to force Bama QB Greg McElroy to panic a bit. He only made two tackles with a tackle-for-loss in the first game against the Gamecocks, but he was unstoppable at getting into the backfield with five quarterback hurries.
Also in the post-season awards hunt is Alshon Jeffery, the big, strong, talented South Carolina wide receiver who's a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. The 6-4, 237-pound sophomore has tremendous size, good hands, and home-run hitting ability averaging a whopping 18 yards per catch with 75 grab for 1,351 yards and eight scores, with his best game coming against Auburn with eight catches for 192 yards and two scores. Auburn has a had a nightmare of a time all year against decent receivers, giving up ten catches for 199 yards and a score to Julio Jones last week and nine catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns to A.J. Green. Jeffery's stats should be nice and fat this week.
South Carolina will win if ... the turnovers are kept to a minimum. Auburn is playing with supreme confidence after the epic comeback against Alabama, but the Iron Bowl should've been over at halftime. Had the Tide not screwed up and had it maintained its focus, it should've been up by at least 30 going into the locker room, but turnovers changed the game around. South Carolina had the Tigers in trouble in Jordan-Hare, and then the mistakes started to come, finishing with four turnovers. Against Arkansas, USC gave it away three times, and against Kentucky, the offense took its foot off the gas and ended up losing after turning it over four times. In the three losses, the Gamecocks lost a total of 11 times, and turned it over just eight times in the nine wins.
Defensively, South Carolina has to keep forcing the Tigers in third-and-long situations. The Tiger running game rumbled for 334 yards, with Newton tearing off 176 yards and three scores, the first time around, and the offense converted 7-of-12 third down chances and its one fourth down attempt. Newton is a phenomenal passer, and he's getting time to work, but the mediocre Gamecock secondary can't hold up if it's worrying about cheating up against the run on 3rd-and-3. The USC pass rush is good enough to bother Newton if he has to drop back and make something happen down the field.
Auburn will win if ... it drops the hammer early. Stephen Garcia hasn't thrown a pick in three games, and he has had a nice year with 18 touchdown passes with nine picks, but back to the turnover issue, USC is 1-4 over the last three years when he throws multiple picks. The one win was this season against Furman, while two of the losses came to Kentucky and Arkansas this season. If Auburn can get off to a quick start (a slight problem at times this year), and if it can take Lattimore out of the equation, Garcia will press and the mistakes will come. Auburn will give up yards, and it'll get hit be at least one home run, but if the defense that was so great at popping the ball loose last week against Alabama can win the turnover battle, South Carolina will be dead in the water.
Basically, Auburn has to be Auburn. The South Carolina run defense is ranked fifth in the nation thanks to the sacks and tackles for loss, but that's also partly because everyone spends so much time throwing it on the bad poor Gamecock secondary. The Tiger ground game has too many weapons to be stopped for a full sixty minutes, and the run defense is too strong and too active for Lattimore to get humming. As long as Newton and the running game can rumble for over 200 yards, and as long as the defense is forcing South Carolina to bomb away, it should be on to Glendale.
What will happen: Was the Alabama game a cautionary tale that Auburn is ripe to get tagged, or did it show that the team is so good it can overcome any adversity? It might be a little of both, but the team has been able to sidestep the landmines so far to get to this point. South Carolina really is that good, with two fourth quarter collapses and an unfocused loss to Arkansas that didn't matter being the only blips. It's not going to get rolled over, but it'll get taken out of its gameplan early on. Stephen Garcia will need to have the game of his life, and he won't, but the Tigers will get ahead early and stay there the entire game, Newton will be Newton, and it'll be off to Glendale … after a late rally. South Carolina will have the ball with a chance to tie it up late, but the final drive will fizzle with an interception.
CFN Prediction: Auburn 31 … South Carolina 24 ... Line: Auburn -5
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SEC Championship: Part
One. The Overview