Tigers Barely Hang On For SEC Road Win

Tommy Tuberville has high praise for the Gamecocks as Auburn escapes with a 24-17 victory.

Columbia, S.C.--Auburn struggled to contain South Carolina's scrambling quarterback Syvelle Newton and his no-huddle, five-receiver offense, but the Tigers held on for a 24-17 victory at damp and windy Williams-Brice Stadium on Thursday night to stay unbeaten.

For the second time this year, the game was decided on the final play by the defense. Cornerback Patrick Lee deflected a pass thrown to Sidney Rice allowing the relieved Tigers to slip out of town still unbeaten, but just barely.

"The last play they blitzed us," South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said. "Probably should have run a slant. The kid (Lee) covered him well and it didn't work out. I told the team we are just not good enough to beat Auburn now. Hopefully, some day we will be."

Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville had extremely high praise for Newton, who passed for 240 yards and two touchdowns and time after time scrambled away from Auburn defenders to keep the chains moving. "Newton really caused us a lot of problems with his scrambling," Tuberville.

"We knew we were in a fight from the word go," he noted. "We were just fortunate enough to make one more play at the end of the game than they did.

"I am proud of our team, we played hard," Tuberville said. "We weren't as consistent. We aren't as open-up of a team as they are. It was kind of hit and miss for us.

"We ran the ball pretty good. We controlled it. I took some chances in the third quarter with the wind in our face. We found something we thought would work--a little pooch kick (onsides) to the right that kept them off the field. We didn't have the answer to what they were doing on offense with the quarterback. With that kid only being there for two weeks, he looked like he had been there forever."

Patrick Lee and Eric Brock celebrate the win. Auburn improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the SEC.

Trailing by a touchdown after forcing a three and out from the Auburn offense, South Carolina took over at its own 20 with 5:24 to play. Converting a pair of fourth downs along the way, the Gamecocks kept the ball for 18 plays before coming up five yards short of the goal line.

"I thought South Carolina played their tail off," Tuberville said. "Coach Spurrier, with the hand he was dealt by the last group that coached here, they did a great job. He has kids with a lot of heart. They did it the right way. I am glad he rolls off the schedule for a few years."

Auburn won the toss and deferred. With the Gamecocks taking the football that meant the Tigers had the benefit of a brisk wind blowing from the north in the first quarter.

The Tiger defense took the stage first and produced a three and out. Auburn took over at its own 31 and took nine plays to score.

The running of Irons gave the Tigers a first and goal inside the 10. Two runs by Irons moved the ball to the seven before Rodgeriqus Smith came up a yard short of a score on a pass from Brandon Cox.

The Tigers decided to go for the TD. Irons was stopped at left guard, but reached the ball over the goal line for six points with 8:07 left in the first quarter. The play was reviewed, but the call on the field stood.

South Carolina then put together a drive that reached the Auburn 14-yard line, but Will Herring ended the threat by intercepting a pass in the corner of the end zone intended for Sidney Rice with 3:39 left in the opening quarter.

The Gamecocks, using the running of QB Syvelle Newton, dominated time of possession for most of the first two quarters, but couldn't put any points on the scoreboard until Ryan Succop hit a 49-yard field goal with 9:09 left in the second quarter.

The Gamecocks moved 28 yards in nine plays after getting the ball on a fumble by defensive end Marquies Gunn, who had picked up a loose fumble on a sack as he and Herring hit Newton. However, after Gunn returned the football 30 yards it was stripped and recovered by running back Cory Boyd at the South Carolina 39.

Auburn trumped the field goal by driving 80 yards on nine plays for a touchdown. A third down pass to Prechae Rodriguez for 15 yards got the drive started. Runs for 24 yards by Irons and 20 by Carl Stewart helped the Tigers to a first and goal at the South Carolina seven.

Two plays later, Cox faked a handoff and threw a pass to Tommy Trott for the nine-yard touchdown play. The tight end had lined up like a slot receiver and was uncovered on the play that put Auburn up 14-3 with 4:42 left in the half.

However, the Gamecocks cut the Auburn lead back to four by driving 75 yards on a nine-play drive. Spurrier's team attacked Auburn nickel back Zach Gilbert, who was trying to cover Kenny McKinley, gave up gainers of 28, 17 and a 13-yarder for a touchdown with 46 seconds left before halftime. Gilbert was replaced by Jerraud Powers in the second half. Secondary coach and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp that that Gilbert was not full speed due to an injury and that was why the change was made after halftime.

The home team controlled the football for 18 minutes and 48 seconds in the first two quarters while the Tigers kept the football for 11 minutes and 12 seconds. The Gamecocks also enjoyed a 181-151 edge in total offense with the Gamecocks outgaining AU 116-55 through the air.

Auburn got the ball to start the second half and was backed up when Brad Lester bobbled the kickoff and a holding call on Tristan Davis forced the Tigers to start just outside their six-yard line.

The Tigers then had their longest possession of the season. They kept the football for 17 plays and moved 85 yards before settling for a 24-yard John Vaughn field goal on fourth and eight. Three passes to Trott helped move the ball deep into South Carolina territory.

Auburn then called on Matt Clark to execute an onside kick. "The ball went exactly where I wanted it to go," said Clark, who admitted he was nervous when the call came in.

Jerraud Powers covered it and Auburn kept the ball for the entire third period before scoring on fourth and goal from a yard out on the first play of the final quarter to make the score 24-10.

South Carolina responded with a long drive, moving 93 yards on 15 plays with Newton hooking up with Jared Cook on a 25-yard pass from Newton with 8:25 left to play.

Tuberville said he was very disappointed that his team came up a yard short when it ran the ball three times on the next possession. That forced the second punt of the game for the Tigers. South Carolina kept the ball the rest of the game.

"That was a helpless feeling watching it from the sidelines," admitted Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox, who hit 13-19 passes for 180 yards and one score.

The Kenny Irons return to Columbia was a success. He finished with 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns. His brother David Irons led all tacklers with 10 stops and fellow senior Will Herring had 10 tackles for the Tigers.

In addition to Newton, receiver Kenny McKinley had a big game, catching eight passes for 110 yards while South Carolina star Sidney Rice had four catches for 48 yards.

The Tigers return to action a week from Saturday with an 11 a.m. home game vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks who are off this week.

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