"I thought it was a great win and I could not have been any more proud of our football team," said Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, who called the win a "huge landmark" victory for his young football team.
Chizik said the Tigers got contributions from special teams, the defense and the offense to win at Williams-Brice Stadium. "This is a game they willed to win...I am blessed that I am around people like that," Auburn's third-year head coach said.
With the help of a strong performance by the special teams, Auburn spent much of the contest in good field position with its average start at its own 39 compared to South Carolina, which had an average start at its 20.
The Tigers used that field position to move into South Carolina 11 times, but had only one touchdown and one field goal to show for it until a final do-or-die drive.
Taking over at its own 43 with 5:27 left on the clock, the Tigers moved the ball 12 plays for a touchdown. The final nine yards came on a third and five touchdown pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen, a play offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn had kept in reserve until it was absolutely needed.
"The last time we ran that one was in the Alabama game last year," Malzahn said. The scored a touchdown that time, too.
Onterio McCalebb runs for key yards on Auburn's final drive.
After a booming Cody Parkey kickoff out of the back of the end zone, the Gamecocks had 80 yards of real estate to negotiate and two timeouts against an Auburn defense that had given Coach Steve Spurrier's team fits throughout the game.
With the help of a questionable roughing the passer call, the Gamecocks managed two first downs, but ran out of time at the Auburn 42 yard line. The Tigers improved to 4-1 with the win and 2-0 in the SEC and it was fitting that the Auburn defense was on the field on the final play after it limited USC to 289 total yards and 13 first downs.
South Carolina, which has not beaten Auburn since 1933, fell to 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC.
"Offensively, we could do nothing," Spurrier said after the Auburn defense allowed his Gamecocks to convert just 2-10 third down opportunities while Auburn's offense converted 11-22.
"Give Auburn credit," Spurrier said. "They played pretty well."
Auburn held South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore to just 66 yards on 17 carries, the third time in two seasons that Auburn's ability to stop Lattimore has led to an Auburn victory over the Gamecocks. "We couldn't give Lattimore any room at all."
Chizik said the game plan going into the contest was to concentrate on stopping the South Carolina star.
Auburn's Michael Dyer led the Auburn offense pulling ironman duty, rushing for 141 yards on a career-high 41 carries despite twisting his ankle in the third quarter. He tied the Auburn record for carries in a game set 10 seasons ago vs. Georgia by Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.
Michael Dyer runs for the Tigers. He came into the game with 62 rushing attempts this season and ended with with 103.
Onterio McCalebb made it a nice one-two running backs punch for the Tigers. He ran the football nine times for 58 yards and caught three passes for 33 yards.
The running game helped Auburn enjoy a huge 34:47 to 24:13 time of possession advantage on a day Auburn struggled to pass the football. Barrett Trotter got pounded throughout the game and completed 12-23 passes for one TD and 112 yards with two interceptions. The Tigers threw two more picks on trick plays--one by C.J. Uzomah on a reverse and one by field goal holder Ryan White.
Auburn came into the game averaging just 59.5 offensive plays per game and had 92 vs. the Gamecocks, who had just 52.
"Getting their offense off the field on third downs was huge for us," said sophomore defensive end Nosa Eguae. "We had a good game plan and executed it."
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof agreed and said the guys on his side of the ball should build confidence from their performance. "It wasn't given to us," Roof said. "We earned it. They battled and they grew up a little bit.
"We got off the field tonight when we had an opportunity to and I thought our kids did a great job executing and played their butts off," Roof added. "I am really, really proud of them."
Auburn won the opening toss and deferred. South Carolina took the football and punted after a three-and-out. With the help of a 15-yard interference penalty as Quan Bray tried to field a punt, the Tigers opened on offense with good field position at the 50.
The Tigers held the football for 10 plays and three minutes and four seconds left before settling for a 21-yard field goal by Parkey. Auburn had moved to a first and goal at the three, but couldn't punch it in from there with no gain on a run by Dyer and two incomplete passes.
The Tigers had a chance to extend the lead after Jonathan Mincy recovered a Lattimore fumble on South Carolina's 36. However, the Tigers turned the ball back to Gamecocks when a reverse play pass from receiver Uzomah to Bray was intercepted by Antonio Allen, who returned the football 19 yards to the USC 31.
Four plays later the Gamecocks took the lead on a 50-yard pass from Stephen Garcia to Alshon Jeffery, who outjumped cornerback T'Sharvan Bell, to pull in the long throw when Bell had inside position. The lead stayed at 6-3 when Corey Lemonier blocked the PAT.
Auburn regained the lead early in the second quarter as Dyer scored from less than yard out on a keeper from the wildcat formation after Kiehl Frazier appeared to have scored on a wildcat run two plays earlier and Dyer appeared to have scored one play earlier. Parkey's PAT attempt hit the right upright leaving Auburn on top 9-6. Auburn kept the ball 11 plays and moved 75 yards for the touchdown.
There weren't any more points scored in the first half, but the Tigers had opportunities. The best one came right before halftime when the Tigers faked a field goal and holder Ryan White, a quarterback in high school, tried to throw the ball into the end zone for Philip Lutzenkirchen. However, two defenders were in the area making for an easy interception.
At halftime the Tigers had out-gained the home team 177-151. The Gamecocks managed just four first downs in the first two quarters while Auburn had 10, helping the Tigers enjoy a 16:09 to 13:51 time of possession advantage.
Daren Bates hits Stephen Garcia. The QB was just 9-23 passing for 160 yards with two interceptions.
Dyer was a workhorse for the carries, carrying the football on 21 of Auburn's 44 plays. South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore had 36 rushing yards on nine carries at the break. AU's Frazier ran the ball four times in the first half for 39 yards, including a 22-yard gainer that set up the touchdown.
The Gamecocks regained the lead with 5:58 left in the third quarter after getting good field position at midfield. On a 35-yard punt into the wind, Trent Fisher was called for interfering with the punt catch giving South Carolina possession at the 50.
A 35-yard pass over the middle set up a 15-yard run by Lattimore on the second play of the possession to make the score 13-9 as the Gamecocks made the PAT on their second opportunity. That touchdown came with 5:58 left in the third quarter and the home team was unable to score again.
Eguae, one of three returning starters from last season's Auburn defense, said it was a thrilling finish with the defense getting to make an end of the game stop to preserve the win. "That is what we worked for, that is why we run those sprints in the offseason just to be able to finish in the fourth quarter and that is what we went out there and did," he said.
Next up for Auburn is another road trip to Arkansas next Saturday.