We’re back with the weekly matchups post, then it’s off to Columbia. It’s the first game I’ve covered there, so it should be an enjoyable trip. Without further ado, here’s who has the edge:
Auburn at South Carolina
- Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
- When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
- TV: CBS
- Records: Auburn 3-1, 1-0 SEC; South Carolina 4-0, 2-0 SEC
- Series: Auburn leads 8-1-1
Auburn passing game vs. South Carolina secondary
Barrett Trotter seems to have regressed a bit, going from a 71.7 percent passer the first two games to a 52.8 percent passer the last two. Obviously, that’s not all his fault (the pass protection hasn’t been great), but he’ll need to be more accurate if Auburn hopes to challenge South Carolina. Trovon Reed is out with a shoulder injury, putting freshman Quan Bray in as a reverse/screen guy at receiver. Auburn’s helped out by tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen‘s likely return from an ankle injury. Emroy Blake is a constant threat. The Gamecocks are 13th nationally in pass defense, giving up 165.0 yards per game, although playing run-first Navy and offensively-challenged Vanderbilt help those numbers. All-SEC cornerback Stephon Gilmore is a high-risk/high-reward kind of guy (Darvin Adams torched him last year in the SEC title game). Strong safety D.J. Swearinger, who I believe was featured in the HBO show “Deadwood,” is second on the team with 23 tackles. Edge: South Carolina.
Auburn running backs vs. South Carolina linebackers
More Mike Dyer, more Mike Dyer, more Mike Dyer. That’s what the coaches have said is the plan, although Tigers fans haven’t seen it yet. Dyer, who went for 151 yards on 16 carries against Clemson, ran only 14 times for 68 yards against FAU (although to be fair, you don’t run your workhorse back 30 times against FAU and expect him to make it through the SEC season). He’s averaging 6.9 yards a carry. That’s over a yard better than South Carolina stud Marcus Lattimore. The Gamecocks are led by Antonio Allen at linebacker. The senior leads the team with 39 tackles and is tied for the conference lead with three forced fumbles. Shaq Wilson is back after playing only one game last year — the first Auburn matchup — because of a hamstring injury. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. South Carolina defensive line
The Tigers haven’t found that cohesion up front that makes for a good offensive line. Trotter has taken too many hits the last few weeks. He was sacked three times by FAU and pressured 12 more. John Sullen should be back at right guard after missing last week with an injury, but there aren’t many options for the group personnel-wise. What they’ve played is what they have. The Gamecocks have eight sacks in four games, decent numbers. But the biggest threat is 6-foot-6, 254-pound freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 recruit in the country last year. He has four sacks already and has caused three fumbles. Put him on a line that includes Devin Taylor (first-team All-SEC, 6-foot-7 defensive end), Travian Robertson (23 stats at DT) and Melvin Ingram (13.5 career sacks) and this is a fearsome group. Edge: South Carolina.
South Carolina passing game vs. Auburn secondary
Which Stephen Garcia will show up — the one who threw for 110 yards and a touchdown and added two rushing touchdowns in relief against East Carolina? Or the one who threw four interceptions against Vanderbilt? It’s usually all or nothing for Garcia, who has three touchdowns to seven interceptions this season. It helps to have 6-foot-4 receiver Alshon Jeffery on the outside. The junior has 14 catches for 246 yards and a touchdown, modest totals compared to his 1,500-yard season in 2010, but he remains a threat nonetheless. Lattimore (12 catches, 139 yards) is a huge threat in the screen game, which USC utilizes often. Auburn’s secondary barely held FAU to under 200 yards (199) after giving up 386 yards and four touchdowns against Clemson. Freshmen corners Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie have been promising. It’ll be interesting to see if they get more playing time with Chris Davis a game-time decision because of an ankle injury. Edge: South Carolina.
South Carolina running backs vs. Auburn linebackers
Lattimore is a beast. He hits the hole, he breaks tackles, he gets tough yards and he touches the ball 40 times a game. He’s everything you want in a back and Auburn’s going to have a tough time stopping him. Tigers MLB Jake Holland has made some progress over the weeks. He had three tackles and an interception against FAU. But Auburn will need to be sound with its tackling to have any chance against Lattimore, not necessarily its forte. Jonathan Evans (shoulder) could return, which would be a boost. He made 14 tackles in the opener against Utah State before getting hurt. Auburn needs all the help it can get here. Edge: South Carolina.
South Carolina offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
The Gamecocks have some experience up front, with their five starters combining to make 90 career starts. They’ve paved the way for USC to run for 214.5 yards per game, 27th best nationally. They’ve allowed five sacks in four game, which puts them 35th nationally. The group might not have a standout, but it has played well together. Auburn is still figuring things out on its defensive front. Losing Dee Ford for the year was a blow to the rush ends. Corey Lemonier, who is coming off his best game yet, will start, but it thrusts redshirt freshman LaDarius Owens into a backup role. The tackles are still an issue. Jeffrey Whitaker has done OK, but Ken Carter hasn’t been getting much push. True freshman Angelo Blackson continues to come along behind him. He might steal more snaps this week. Edge: South Carolina.
Auburn return units vs. South Carolina coverage teams
Teams have kicked away from Tre Mason the last few weeks. We’ll see if that trend continues. He’s second in the SEC, averaging 29.4 yards per return. Bray takes over for Reed at punt return too. It might not be a dropoff. Reed was only averaging 5.2 yards per return. The Gamecocks are 78th nationally on kick return defense and 72nd on punts, not great numbers overall. Edge: Auburn.
South Carolina return units vs. Auburn coverage teams
South Carolina has some athletes in the return game. Ace Sanders already has a 68-yard punt return to his credit this year. Bruce Ellington has been less effective returning kicks (22.8 avg.). He probably won’t touch the ball anyway. Auburn’s Cody Parkey has 15 touchbacks this season, more than the team has had the last two years. Punter Steven Clark is coming into his own, averaging 43.7 yards a punt, but the Tigers are still giving up 10.3 yards per return (although they’ve only allowed three). Edge: Auburn.
Parkey missed his first field goal last week, but it was from 47. He’s still 6-for-7 this year. South Carolina’s Jay Wooten is 2-for-3, with a long of 49. This is his first year handling field goal duties. Edge: Auburn.
We’ve got two national championship caliber coaches facing off once again. Gene Chizik won it last year; Steve Spurrier in 1996 with Florida. Chizik has the better head-to-head matchup, winning both games last year. Spurrier has the better pedigree, with a 190-73-2 career record and six SEC championships on his resume (albeit none since 2000). Both have standout coordinators they’re paying a lot of money to — Gus Malzahn on offense at Auburn; Ellis Johnson on defense at South Carolina. It’s tough to tip the balance here one way or another. Edge: Push.
South Carolina is beatable, as Navy proved two weeks ago in a 24-21 loss in Columbia. You never know what you’re going to get from Garcia, and Auburn, at least last year, did a decent job of limiting the damage from Lattimore. But this is an inexperienced and struggling Tigers defense, one that has not stopped the run this year. That’s not how you want to be playing going up against one of the premier running backs in the nation. I’d imagine Auburn will sell out to stop the run, but that might open things up for Jeffery in the passing game. It’s not a great choice. Offensively, the Tigers will need to lean on Dyer but also get some balance. South Carolina’s defensive line is pretty strong. If it can disrupt Trotter’s rhythm in the passing game, it might not matter how many carries Dyer has. Add in the road factor and I don’t particularly like this matchup for the Tigers. Prediction: South Carolina 33, Auburn 23.