Auburn, Ala.--If someone didn’t watch Auburn’s hard-fought victory over South Carolina and just looked at the stats they couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to face off against one of the best play-callers in college football history with nothing to lose.
With the Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier turning into the Riverboat Gambler right before our eyes, South Carolina pulled out all the stops to win Saturday night’s game. From going for it on fourth down deep in his own territory to getting a surprise onside kick, Spurrier did his best to get a victory and almost succeeded. Playing against an Auburn offense that wasn’t be slowed by his team's defense, Spurrier kept the Auburn offense on the sidelines as much as possible and kept the Tigers’ defense playing a guessing game.
“As a defensive player it’s very frustrating, but you can’t control what they are doing on the other sideline,” junior linebacker Cassanova McKinzy said. “You can only control what play call comes in. We played the calls, some they completed and some they didn’t. They didn’t really have a lot to lose so they were trying to knock us off. We just had to play our responsibilities and not worry about what they were doing.”
Already a dangerous coach on the sidelines no matter the circumstances, Spurrier was at his very best on Saturday with a go-for-broke attitude leading to clutch plays from his South Carolina offense. Throwing for 416 yards, quarterback Dylan Thompson threw the ball 50 times, but was rarely pressured by Auburn’s defense along the way and made the Tigers pay time and time again with his 29 completions.
The only good news for Auburn's defense was the play in the red zone. Turning away South Carolina three times in five trips, the Tigers got interceptions by McKinzy and Jonathan Jones to keep the Gamecocks out of the end zone. Those proved to be huge plays, something McKinzy said was a focal point for the team since walking off the field against Mississippi State.
“We worked really hard in the red zone in practice,” McKinzy said. “Coach made the call that I had to drop in the hole. We worked on that probably 40 times during the week. He told me that if I get to it with great anticipation it would be thrown right in my face and that’s exactly what happened.”
McKinzy’s running mate at linebacker Kris Frost agreed. Auburn’s leading tackler with 14 stops vs. the Gamecocks, he said the play in the red zone was definitely the difference in his mind.
“It was really important,” Frost said of the red zone defensive improvement. “Cass’ interception was great for us. It was great for our defense, them marching down the field on us and him coming up with that big play as well as J.J.’s.
We’ve been doing things like that all year and we did that last year. We know we’re going to have those plays in us if we need them, but the biggest thing is not being put in those situations where we have to make those plays.”