Auburn at South Carolina
Give Auburn credit for going into a hostile environment and coming out with a win, and give even more credit for the run defense that was next-level bad over the first few weeks for stuffing the Gamecocks for just 129 yards, but this one is on South Carolina.
Auburn fed the ball to Michael Dyer 41 times for 141 yards and a touchdown. South Carolina gave the ball to Marcus Lattimore 23 times against East Carolina, 27 times against Georgia, and a whopping 37 times against Navy, but the team's best player only ran 17 times for 66 yards and a touchdown. He was beaten up, but this was the game he needed to be the workhorse, and instead the main man was on the other side.
Having a nasty, powerful running game is the great equalizer on the road, and while Dyer didn't bust out any big runs, he was strong on run after run to control the clock and the game. His running kept the Tiger defense off the field, softened up the USC defense, and helped the Tigers hold on to the ball for almost 36 minutes.
And even with everything working as well as could be hoped for, the game still came down to the final second.
Stephen Garcia was awful – again – completing just 9-of-22 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown with two picks, and while he scrambled well and gave the team a shot at the end, it wasn't enough in a crushing loss.
Once again, South Carolina is proving to be a team with million dollar talent and five-cent consistency. The team is way too good to have this many problems, and Auburn was all too happy to take advantage of them.
South Carolina has a right to be annoyed that it didn't get that final tick of the clock needed for PK Jay Wooten to attempt the potential game-tying field goal. Its fans ought to be even angrier about an offense that's been steadily going south since the Week 2 win over Georgia.
Every game tends to have a different fingerprint and pulse, but there's no denying that the Auburn D was a humbled unit as it entered Williams-Brice Stadium this afternoon. At least statistically, the Tigers ranked last in the SEC in run defense, pass defense, scoring D and sacks. It's those numerical realities that'll make this weekend's 16-13 defeat so difficult to digest for the program. The defense did its part to get to 5-0, but the offense remains an inconsistent unit that makes too many mistakes, and isn't getting enough production from QB Stephen Garcia. Opposing defenses are getting wise to the Gamecocks offense, recognizing that they can load up to stop RB Marcus Lattimore without paying the price through the air. It's a situation that doesn't figure to change this fall. Garcia is what he is, a physically gifted hurler who lacks the total package behind center to be considered a week-in, week-out winner at this level. When the skills of All-American type athletes, such as Lattimore and WR Alshon Jeffery, are diminished by the play of the quarterback, everyone within the offense is going to suffer immeasurably. That's basically what's taking place in Columbia these days.
Obviously, this is a huge win for Auburn, which continues to show a tremendous amount of fortitude in 2011 despite facing personnel hurdles on both sides of the ball. The outcome is also a big deal for Florida and Georgia, which saw their vision for an SEC East crown become a whole lot clearer with the Tigers' upset on the road.
By Matt Zemek
Auburn should be credited for staying with the program and not wilting in the heat of a road-game environment. The Tigers have brought their 2010 moxie with them into 2011. The same cannot be said for a South Carolina team that is technically a defending champion of a division, but has clearly not gained the confidence that should come with crossing a threshold.
There was one and only one reason to pick Auburn in this game, but it was a big one: Stephen Garcia, fifth-year senior, was an absolute mess heading into this contest. He made – what? – two half-decent throws and a handful of nimble runs on quarterback draws… and that was it. What has to have Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks' fan base fuming is this: If Garcia, uneven but able to make plays for most of last season, had merely maintained his 2010 form in this game, Carolina probably would have won. However, it was markedly apparent that Garcia had regressed from his 2010 level in the month of September. Athletes must constantly face the need to get better, to enhance skills while weeding out bad habits. Garcia is doing just the opposite. That's why Auburn defensive coordinator – being no dummy – was able to put eight in the box all game long and take away Marcus Lattimore. Roof dared Garcia to beat him, and the South Carolina quarterback came up small. This isn't complicated at all. Yes, Trotter and his skill people made huge plays on that ballsy drive in the final minutes, but if Auburn hadn't accumulated over 90 plays – roughly twice as many as the Gamecocks – South Carolina's imposing defense wouldn't have been quite so tired at the end. It was Auburn's comparative freshness – a reality produced by Carolina's offensive inability to stay on the field – which ultimately caught up with the Gamecocks.
Followers of the SEC will recall that when Steve Spurrier hit tough times at Florida in the post-Danny Wuerffel era, he alternated quarterbacks on almost every play in the 1997 Florida-Florida State game. Without one go-to guy under center, Spurrier "coached up" his signal callers on a play-by-play basis. That's what he has to do to make the Gamecocks' offense better.
Auburn, though, is better than South Carolina for the second straight season, showing that even on the road, this program on the Plains hasn't forgotten how to perform in defining moments. One team's retained lessons from 2010 trumped the other team's forgotten lessons from last season. That's the best way of putting this soaring War Eagle escape into its proper perspective.
By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee
Auburn's offense was vanilla, it was mundane, it was predictable...and it worked.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's game plan going in was apparent mid-way through the second quarter. Try not to do anything stupid (Barrett Trotter's decision-making notwithstanding) and let Stephen Garcia lose the game. Two interceptions later he almost did...and then led the Gamecocks on a furious charge down the field to almost win the game.
Auburn's defense was much improved from the first four games, which was the reason that Auburn won the game. But the decision-making of quarterback Barrett Trotter leaves a lot to be desired. If Auburn's D heads south again - and let's face it, that's almost a certainty - the Tigers need a dynamic offense, and true freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier provides that.
Make no mistake, this is a HUGE win for Auburn. The Tigers are now at 4-1 with games against Samford and Ole Miss still on the docket. That's bowl eligibility at the very least; which, considering the way the Tigers have played defense thus far, is a major accomplishment.
For South Carolina, this game is further proof that the Gamecocks are still the same ole Gamecocks. They are one-dimensional and predictable, and those two things aren't going to win you championships in the SEC during normal years. With Florida re-established as the SEC East power, and Georgia now sitting only a half-game back, the SEC East is again up-for-grabs, and the Gamecocks will have a hard time backing into a championship - as was the case last year.
Some people will point to the decision to end the game, when there was one second on the clock after the Gamecocks got a first down at the end of the game. Was it the wrong call? Probably. But you mean to tell me that South Carolina was going to run its field goal team on and kick a field goal during the time it took the referees to spot the ball and wind the clock? That wouldn't happen. After the play was stopped, the referees couldn't give South Carolina the time to run everybody out there after clearing the field, and allow the Gamecocks to snap the ball on the ready for play.
Don't blame this on the refs, because the call was made and allowing them to correct it would have been incredibly unfair to Auburn.
Two wrongs don't make a right.
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter @russmitchellcfb
It's not difficult, Spurrier. Here, let me help you.
Since he arrived at Columbia, Marcus Lattimore has been the best running back to ever do so. Ever. Better than George Rogers.
Since his feet touched campus, the Gamecocks had won every game in which Lattimore had received more than 16 carries a game. Get Lattimore more than 16 carries, you win. Get less, you lose.
Guess we can move that up one to 17.
Don't be so literal, Spurrier. The point is get your star player the ball, and you win. Don't, and you lose.
You have a quarterback who's pedestrian at best, and a tailback who's the best in the nation.
Auburn knows that lesson...as stud running back Michael Dyer got the 41 carries Lattimore should have, and with them 141 yards. Lattimore packed in 66 on his 17. So Dyer had a much better day, right?
Dyer? 3.4 yards per carry. Lattimore? 3.9 ypc.
There's your ballgame.