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Friday, September 24, 2010

Auburn-South Carolina: Who has the edge?

It's Friday. You know the deal. Let's get to it ...

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No. 12 South Carolina at No. 17 Auburn
  • Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium
  • When: Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET
  • Records: South Carolina 3-0, 1-0 SEC; Auburn 3-0, 1-0 SEC
South Carolina passing game vs. Auburn secondary
The Gamecocks have a stable of big, physical receivers, led by Alshon Jeffery, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who is tied for the SEC lead with 19 receptions through three games. Toni Gurley and D.L. Moore are big targets as well, while 5-foot-7 freshman Ace Sanders has found an immediate role. The big question is quarterback Stephen Garcia, who's entering his third year as a starter. Steve Spurrier doesn't seem to trust him, and for good reason. He has 20 interceptions in 24 games. But Auburn's secondary hasn't been a ball-hawking group this year. Tigers defensive backs have zero interceptions through three games, despite being thrown on more than any other SEC team. Despite the group's experience, it is 11th in the league, allowing 226 passing yards a game and have looked vulnerable to underneath routes all year. One stats of interest, though: Auburn's 9.74 yards per completion allowed is second lowest in the SEC to Alabama. Edge: South Carolina.
South Carolina running backs vs. Auburn linebackers
Don't know if you've heard of this Marcus Lattimore guy. He's pretty good. The freshman has been USC's workhorse this year, carrying the ball 70 times for 333 yards and five touchdowns. He's gotten the ball more than anybody in the league and will undoubtedly be the primary part of South Carolina's game plan Saturday. But Auburn's linebackers have been good. Josh Bynes is coming off a strong performance that earned him SEC Defensive Player of the Week. Daren Bates is third on the team with 18 tackles. And you have to figure Craig Stevens will show a giant leap from his first game to second, knocking off whatever rust was left from his two-game suspension. I think Stevens plays better in this game and that evens up this category. Edge: Push.
South Carolina offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
While South Carolina's rushing stats have been good, they're not obscene. Lattimore is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. All of the Gamecocks runners are averaging 4.7. That's good, but not outstanding, considering they've played games against Southern Miss and Furman. USC has some veterans on the line, but it hasn't been great in recent years (91st in rushing last year, 112th in 2008), meaning this year's big numbers might be more attributable to Lattimore's immense talent. Auburn didn't do great against the run versus Clemson, allowing Andre Ellington to break free for 140 yards. But friend of the blog Jerry Hinnen points out that the Tigers have been better against straight-line, power backs than speed backs under Gene Chizik and Ted Roof. Through three games, Auburn is only allowing 3.2 yards per carry. If there's a tiebreaker here, how about this: USC has allowed nine sacks this year; Auburn's defensive line has eight sacks. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn passing game vs. South Carolina secondary
Auburn has been all or nothing in the passing game, hitting it big on long passes but failing to connect on short- and mid-range ones. Cam Newton's line against Clemson shows that: 7-for-14 for 203 yards (29 yards per completion). It's been like that all year. The Tigers' 13 scoring plays have averaged 26.8 yards, with five being 35 yards or more. That's a good explosive offense, but it's not the consistent one that will help keep the chains moving and keep the defense off the field. Making things tougher is that the passing game relies so much on Darvin Adams, who caught five of the team's seven completions last week. But that might not matter against South Carolina, which ranks last in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 267.7 yards a game. That seems counterintuitive, considering how talented cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Chris Culliver are (the former was a first-team All-SEC pick in the preseason; the latter a second-teamer). Part of that might be because the Gamecocks' rushing defense has been so good, but they rank 101st in the nation at stopping the pass, one spot behind SMU and one spot ahead of Michigan. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn running backs vs. South Carolina linebackers
Auburn has yet to get a signature game from one of its tailbacks. Nobody, other that Newton, has topped the 100-yard mark in a game, although Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb have come close. As a two-headed back, Dyer and McCalebb have done well. Combine their numbers against Clemson and they had 150 yards and a touchdown, with a 5.8-yard average. Take their numbers for the year, and they have 70 carries (same as Lattimore) for 437 yards (more than Lattimore) and a 6.2-yard average (more than Lattimore). So maybe things aren't as dire as they seem. Add a healthy Mario Fannin to the group, and that's a pass-catching element the Tigers don't have when he's out. South Carolina's linebackers have been average. Josh Dickerson and Damario Taylor are the leading tacklers in the group with 11, a little more than half of the team's leading tackler, safety DeVonte Holloman. Overall, it doesn't seem like a highly productive group. Injured junior Shaq Wilson, the team's leading tackler last year, will play after missing the first three games with a hamstring injury, but there's no indication of how much action he'll see or how effective he'll be. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. South Carolina defensive line
If you've made it this far into the week without hearing the word "physical," I owe you a steak dinner. [note: offer not binding] Chizik challenged his veteran group of linemen to be more physical up front, mostly because they've been pushed back quite a bit this year. Auburn has good rushing stats (259.3 ypg leads the SEC) but the line hasn't been as dominant as you would expect from a group with 121 starts among its four seniors. South Carolina, meanwhile, has been the best run-stuffing team in the league, holding opponents to 59.7 yards per game on the ground, the sixth-best mark nationally. Travian Robertson (4 TFLs, 2 sacks) and Devin Taylor (3 TFLs, 2 sacks) have been the most disruptive players up front, although DE Cliff Matthews is the consensus All-SEC first-team pick. USC's 11 sacks are tied for fourth nationally and Auburn will be breaking a new right tackle. That could be trouble. Edge: South Carolina.
South Carolina return units vs. Auburn coverage teams
The Gamecocks are last in the SEC in kick returns, averaging a mere 17.9 yards per return. Auburn is allowing only 18.9 yards per return. Gilmore is USC's punt returner and took one to the house last year against Tennessee that was negated because of a holding penalty that wouldn't have affected the return. He hasn't done much back there this year, though, with three returns for 24 yards. Auburn's Ryan Shoemaker has a 39.6-yard average. Not great but not bad. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn return units vs. South Carolina coverage teams
Demond Washington seems like he's going to break a long one soon. He's averaging 26.1 yards per kick return, the fourth-best average in the league. Quindarius Carr didn't have any trouble catching punts against Clemson, but he didn't provide any spark in the return game either. South Carolina does a good job on kickoffs (18.6 yards per return) and punter Spencer Lanning has averaged 46.5 yards per punt. That would put him first in the SEC if he had enough attempts (he has 10). Edge: South Carolina.
Wes Byrum was money in the Clemson game, making a 35-yard field goal before halftime to get Auburn on the board and a clutch 39-yarder to start overtime that proved to the winning points. His only miss in the last year was one that got blocked. Lanning handles South Carolina's kicking too. He's 4-for-5 this year, with a long of 51. He was 17-for-20 last year. Edge: Push.
This is always a tough category. Auburn's got an offensive guru (Gus Malzahn); South Carolina's got a defensive one (Ellis Johnson), although it seems like Johnson might be more on his game right now than Malzahn. As far as head coaches, Chizik has been good at home, but Spurrier's got a ton of experience. Just think of how many games he's coaches in his career between ranked teams. Chizik doesn't have any. Edge: South Carolina.
I have been predicting a close game all week. And when I do these breakdowns, it usually confirms a lot of my thoughts. But I think Auburn came out looking a little better than I thought it would have going through the matchups. I fully expected South Carolina to be the better defensive team, but I thought its secondary would have performed better so far. Offensively, I still don't know if Lattimore will run all over the Tigers' defense. If Auburn can devote enough resources to stopping Lattimore, it'll make Garcia have to win the game through the air. Considering his erratic history, that's a pretty good bet to take. I'll take Auburn in a close one, using every bit of its homefield advantage to win this one. Prediction: Auburn 24, South Carolina 23.


Anonymous said...

Well, at least you pick AU for a win. I think it could go either way as well.

MikeP said...

Nice breakdown, even if I would quarrel with one or two of the "edges".

Lattimore won't be any harder to stop than Ingram was last year. I think Auburn has already beaten the best team from the Palmetto State.

Tigers by 10 or more.

Walker said...

Andy Bitter picks Auburn, what's up. I am picking Auburn 34-USC 24. I think it is going to be higher scoring than most. Word to your mom.

easyedwin said...

Dittos , Mike Pate,
Clem is the best team in S. C.

easyedwin said...

37-29 Auburn

Anonymous said...

For Auburn to win this game the D will have to pressure the SCAR QB. If SCAR Oline holds up they win. If Auburn can give their QB enough time to read and react to SCAR D, they win. Condtioning and execution will ultimately give SCAR 17-10 win.

MikeP said...

Anomyous #2: Do you have some reason to think that South Carolina's team is better conditioned than Auburn's?