Stopping Big Plays Key to Victory for Tigers

Auburn coaches Will Muschamp and James Willis comment on the South Carolina offense.

Auburn, Ala.--If the South Carolina Gamecocks (3-1 overall, 1-1 SEC) are going to have success against the Auburn Tigers (4-0, 2-0) moving the football, it'll likely come from big plays. With an offensive line featuring two freshmen and a former walk-on, consistency against an aggressive Auburn defense may be difficult to achieve.

"The thing that Coach (Steve) Spurrier has done is he's doing a good job of protecting his offensive line," Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp says. "They're going to a lot of seven and eight man protections getting the ball down field vertically and stretching it with a lot of seven and eight man protections."

Center Chris White is a senior and the best blocker on the team, but Muschamp's blitzes from anywhere and everywhere may be too confusing for true freshmen tackle Hutch Eckerson and guard Garrett Anderson, who got their first career starts two weeks ago against Wofford. That's why the play of all-everything receiver Sidney Rice will be so important for the Gamecocks' success.

"This guy has tremendous ball-judgment down the field," Muschamp notes. "He really makes miraculous catches down the field and they obviously want to get the ball high to him down the field. He's got outstanding speed and he gets on top of everybody that's covering him.

"He's a go-to guy," Muschamp adds. "In this league to accomplish what he's accomplished with people rolling over coverages, doubling him up and doing the things they're doing he's just a really good football player."

At 6-4, Rice has outstanding leaping ability.

After inconsistencies/injuries/off the field problems from Blake Mitchell early in the season, Spurrier called on receiver Syvelle Newton to run the show under center. Newton has experience at quarterback throughout his career and adds an extra dimension to the offense.

"They've added some (shot)gun runs for that kid and he's an outstanding athlete," Muschamp says of Newton. "They've had some breakdowns in protection and now he can create plays with his legs. He's a double threat as far as what they're doing and their throwing game has remained the same."

Muschamp says he expects South Carolina to run some short-yardage option plays with Newton and tailbacks Cory Boyd, Mike Davis and Taylor Rank. Those three backs have 184 yards, 128 yards and 101 yards this year, respectively. All of Rank's yards came in last week's 45-6 victory over Florida Atlantic.

"They run hard," says Auburn linebacker coach James Willis. "Boyd, I think, is probably the best of the group. Number 25 (Davis) and number 20 (Rank) also run hard. They don't let you get a clean shot on them. They always keep their feet running or they spin or they're doing something. They don't just lay down when you hit them. They're pretty physical backs."

Rice leads the team in receiving with 21 catches for 356 yards and five touchdowns, all of which came in the first 32 minutes of the win over FAU. Boyd and Newton are tied for second on the team with 10 catches, and wideout Kenny McKinley is also a factor in the passing game with nine receptions for 174 yards.

Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner at Florida, is very demanding of his quarterbacks.

Muschamp says he can expect to see both quarterbacks against Auburn with the same kind of passing game despite the different QB styles.

"They just are doing an outstanding job," Muschamp says. "The execution is precise in the throwing game. They do an outstanding job of throwing to spots on the field. The quarterback is taught very well where to throw it and how to throw it and who to throw it to. I think the guy (Spurrier) just does an outstanding job of coaching the quarterback."

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