StatTiger: Analyzing AU vs. South Carolina

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) breaks down Thursday night's battle between Auburn and South Carolina.

at South Carolina / 2005 record: 7-5

2005 Averages:

Offensive Numbers: 95 rushing / 221 passing / 316 total / 24 points per game
Defensive Numbers: 174 rushing / 186 passing / 360 total / 23 pts per game
Returning Starters: Offense: 6 / Defense: 3

2006 National Rankings:

3-1 record
90th total offense
105th scoring offense
50th total defense
23rd scoring defense

Against Auburn since 1999:

Record: 0-1
Auburn Numbers: 123 rushing / 265 passing / 388 total / 48 points per game
S. Carolina Numbers: 70 rushing / 129 passing / 199 total / 7 points per game


Last year's game was very misleading as the Gamecocks played without their starting quarterback and were already struggling to find a running game. Auburn took advantage of early turnovers and mistakes by USC to build a comfortable lead. Blake Mitchell had a good season in 2005, but has not progressed mainly because of poor offensive line play. Running back Cory Boyd has given the Gamecocks the ability to run the ball more consistently, which was their Achilles heel last season.

With only three starters returning on defense, the Gamecocks are still a year or two away of being a serious contender in the SEC East, but they have been the most consistent part of the team.

Coming into the game the Gamecocks are No. 39 in total defense nationally and No. 13 in scoring defense. Linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Marvin Sharp are the two leading tacklers for the Gamecock defense, which has totaled 27 tackles behind the opponent's line of scrimmage.

Last time out…

Both teams are coming off "tune-up" games with Auburn defeating Buffalo 38-7 and South Carolina crushing Florida Atlantic 45-6.

The Gamecocks might have a slight advantage in terms of preparation for this game because they played Division I-AA Wofford the week before they faced Florida Atlantic. Lost in all of the talent he had at Florida, some forget how successful Coach Spurrier was at scheming against his opponents. If there is a weakness to be found, Spurrier will find it and exploit.

By moving Syvelle Newton back to quarterback, Spurrier has found life in his once inept offense. In the last two games, Newton has completed 66 percent of his passes for five touchdowns and only one interception. He has compiled a quarterback rating of 195.0 while rushing for an additional 80 yards.

Though the Gamecocks have not competed against quality defenses the last two weeks, it's obvious Spurrier is attempting to build his offense around Newton's strengths rather than forcing Newton to fit his schemes.

All-Southeastern Conference receiver Sidney Rice is on pace for another 1,000-yard season with 356 yards on 21 receptions, including five touchdowns through four games. The combination of Cory Boyd, Mike Davis and Taylor Rank has given the Gamecocks 413 yards rushing from the running back position along with a 5.16 average per carry.

Newton and Mitchell will need to get the ball into the hands of Rice.

Inside the numbers…

* Last season Auburn won the field position battle with an average start on its own 48-yard line, while the Gamecocks were backed up at their own 21. South Carolina must win the field position battle in the rematch.

* After four games the Gamecock defense has defended 45 possessions, allowing only 11 possessions of 40-yards or more. On offense the Gamecocks have 16 drives of 40 yards or more on 45 possessions. Auburn's offense has 19 possessions of 40 yards or more and the Tiger defense has surrendered 10 possessions of 40 yards or more.

* Last season Auburn had 13 opportunities on offense but this season the Gamecock defense has only averaged 11 trips to the field per game. Cutting back Auburn's offensive opportunities on the field will be a priority for the South Carolina defense. Last Saturday Buffalo limited the Auburn Tiger offense to just 50 offensive snaps.

* Through four games the Gamecock defense has forced six fumbles, intercepted six passes and has sacked the opposing quarterback nine times. South Carolina is currently holding its opponents to a 33 percent success rate on third down.

* The Gamecock defense is allowing 176 yards rushing per game, which could be a huge advantage for the Auburn Tigers.

* After converting only 25 percent of their third-down conversions against Washington State, Auburn has converted on 46 percent in its last three games.

* In the last three games, Auburn's defense has allowed only 2.2 yards per rushing attempt.

* Auburn has allowed 10 quarterback sacks in four games, which is three times as many as it allowed after four games into the 2005 season.

Keys to victory…

South Carolina has a better chance of upsetting Auburn than Mississippi State or Buffalo did, but are not as likely as Washington State. Auburn managed to win all three games by an average score of 37-7 so an upset is highly unlikely.

The Gamecocks, however, are certainly capable of making this an ugly game for the Tigers. Despite having a major disadvantage in terms of talent, Buffalo managed to keep the Auburn offense off the field except for one possession during the first period.

* South Carolina needs to keep its offense very simple for Syvelle Newton and allow him to play to his strengths. Short passes on first down, moving him out of the pocket or putting him in spread formations will allow him to make plays for the Gamecock offense.

* If South Carolina can match its season average of 120 yards rushing, it would limit Auburn's offensive opportunities and would keep the pressure off of the quarterback.

* Last year the Gamecocks killed themselves with turnovers, mistakes and giving Auburn a short field. By making Auburn earn its points, they will try to shorten the game and limit Auburn's scoring.

* The Gamecocks need to limit the big plays and to control the Auburn running game, which they did accomplish last year in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

* Auburn's defense has been very good this season and there is no reason to expect a letdown now. The only area on defense that as been lacking is forced turnovers. The Tigers have forced only four turnovers in as many games. During the 2002 season, Auburn had already forced 15 turnovers just four games into the season and the 2004 squad had seven.

* On offense the Tigers have been steady, relying on great defense and special teams to carry the team. At this point in the season, Coach Tommy Tuberville has elected to be very simple in AU's approach on offense but admits the passing game will be needed down the road. In the previous four seasons, Auburn had an average of six touchdown passes after four games, totaling only three this season. The running game, which has averaged 184 yards per game has been enough to obtain a 4-0 record.

Irons found the end zone twice last year against South Carolina and hopes to do the same on Thursday.

* Auburn's offensive strength is clearly the running game, posting a 44-6 record the last 50 times Auburn has rushed for over 150 yards. The Gamecock defense is 101st in the country on run defense, allowing 176 yards per game on the ground.

* Brandon Cox has been banged up since the LSU game and limiting his number of pass attempts will fall squarely on the shoulders of the offensive line and running game. Once again, if Auburn can choose when they want to pass rather than when they have to pass, the offense should click.

* Auburn's coaching staff is hoping Kenny Irons is close to 100 percent this Thursday night. Last season the Gamecocks did a superb job of holding him to just 27 yards rushing. When Irons rushes for over 100 yards the Tigers' offenses averages 452 yards and 36 points. The passing game also holds a 14-3 touchdown to interception ratio in those nine games.

* On defense the Auburn Tigers must keep Syvelle Newton between the tackles and take the Gamecocks running game away. With South Carolina having issues with its offensive line, look for Coach Muschamp to reach into his bag of blitzes more often.

Final Thoughts...

After totaling five plays of 30 yards or more against Washington State, the Auburn offense has only three "big plays" in the last three games. Last year at the same point in the season, it had ten plays of 30 yards or more. A combination of conservative play calling on offense, injuries and poor execution has limited Auburn's offensive production. The offense is in dire need of a big game and the Gamecocks might be the stage for a breakout.

In order for this to happen the Tigers must improve their passing game and offensive line play to match an already talented running game. The Auburn offense has been very slow out of the gate this season in comparison to 2004 and 2005. Auburn is currently averaging only 11.5 points in the first half after averaging more than 17 points in 2004 and 2005.

Auburn has established itself as one of the top teams in the SEC as well as the nation. Just how good this team really is remains to be seen in the next two games against South Carolina and Arkansas. Since 1951 only 14 Auburn teams have started the season with a 4-0 record. 13 of those 14 teams went on to post nine-win seasons or better with a combined record of 135-24-2. Look for Auburn to continue winning Thursday night...

Auburn 24, South Carolina 6

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