The Gamecocks and Tigers are set for a key SEC match-up on the plains. KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:45 ET
SITE: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
TV: ESPN, ESPN3D SERIES: Auburn leads 6-1-1. Last meeting (2006, Auburn, 24-17).
RECORDS: South Carolina 3-0, 1-0; Auburn 3-0, 1-0.
POLLS: South Carolina (12 AP, 15 USA Today), Auburn (17 AP, 14 USA Today.)
PREDICTION: Auburn 27-24
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- South Carolina has to make sure quarterback Stephen Garcia gets his mojo back as the Gamecocks will probably have to exploit a questionable Auburn secondary, while getting quality carries out of freshman running back Marcus Lattimore. And the defense will exert enough pressure on quarterback Cam Newton, while keeping the Auburn rushing attack in check.
-- Auburn wants to dominate by running the ball like it did on multiple occasions last season. South Carolina has already proven capable of doing that with Lattimore carrying the load. Whichever team can accomplish that goal will likely leave with its biggest victory of the season to date.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
Although South Carolina scored 38 points in its last contest against Furman, the Gamecock offense was the most erratic it has been this season. Quarterback Stephen Garcia was intercepted twice, looking confused at times. Freshman Marcus Lattimore has been impressive, rushing for 333 yards and five touchdowns, while sophomore Alshon Jeffery has 19 catches for 306 yards. The defense, however, took a step backward against Furman. After being stingy against both the run and the pass in its initial two games, USC was exploited through the air against the Palladins. It did record seven quarterback sacks, however.
Auburn's offense was downright atrocious for three quarters against Clemson, but it was absolutely unstoppable in the third quarter when it scored 21 unanswered points and drove deep into Clemson territory four straight times. There are definite issues to be found on a unit that was one of the best in the nation last season, though. Cameron Newton appears to be eyeing his targets for too long and passing the ball too late. He's also taken a beating from all the designed and impromptu runs. The running game with tailbacks Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb has been good, but not near the level it was in 2009 with Ben Tate leading the way. The Tigers' senior-heavy offensive line should be dominating at a higher level than it has been, and will need to regroup now without the services of RT A.J. Greene for the rest of the season. Still, the moments of brilliance have been occurring on a weekly basis, making the Tigers one of the more dangerous teams in the SEC.
Defense was supposed to be Auburn's major area of weakness this season, but so far the unit has stepped up at the biggest moments. The group certainly looked vulnerable against Clemson, especially when defending the short passing game of Kyle Parker. But when the Tigers needed a stop, they got it. Zac Etheridge's game-saving tackle in the backfield during overtime forced Clemson to attempt a game-tying field goal, a kick that ultimately sailed wide left and sent Auburn to a dramatic victory. Though it's looked suspect at times, Auburn's defensive line has yet to be dominated by an opposing front five, as it finds a way to apply pressure to the quarterback on a constant basis. Middle linebacker Josh Bynes is playing at a high level, and the return of Craig Stevens should bolster that group in weeks to come.
Gamecocks: South Carolina looks for a 4-0 start for only the ninth time in school history and first time since 2001 when it travels to Auburn. The Gamecocks' defense is coming off a strong game after holding Furman to 51 rushing yards and notching seven sacks against the Paladins ... Saturday's game will be the first in the series with Auburn where both teams are both nationally ranked. The series began in 1930 ... The Gamecocks have their highest ranking since the week of Oct. 20, 2007, when they were ranked No. 6. It marks the Gamecocks' eighth appearance in the top 20 under Coach Steve Spurrier ... South Carolina will be looking for its first SEC road victory since beating over Kentucky on Oct. 11, 2008, a stretch of five contests ... The Gamecocks' defense leads the SEC in rush defense, but will be tested by Auburn's conference-leading rushing game ... South Carolina hasn't allowed a first-half touchdown this season and only three total touchdowns, including two offensive scores ... The Gamecocks pace the SEC in third down conversion percentage (56.4 percent) and time of possession (32:32) ... Freshman RB Marcus Lattimore ranks second in the SEC with an average of 111 rushing yards per game ... South Carolina is 0-2 at Auburn and hasn't beaten the Tigers since a 16-14 triumph in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 2, 1933 ... South Carolina ranks sixth nationally in rush defense, tied for sixth in sacks and ninth in scoring defense. The Gamecocks are tied for 97th in sacks allowed, 101st in pass defense and 103rd in kickoff returns.
Tigers: Auburn and South Carolina have played four times since the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1992 with Auburn winning all four games ... Auburn is 21-4 in home night games since the 2000 season, including a record of 4-1 against nationally-ranked opponents ... Auburn has started 3-0 for the third straight season, and the 11th time in the last 18 years ... The Tigers lead the nation in passing efficiency, thanks largely to having the nation's top yards per attempt (11.80) and touchdown percentage (13.73) ... The Tigers have three of the top 10 rushers in the SEC, including QB Cameron Newton (103.0 - fifth), RB Onterio McCalebb (75.0 - tied for eighth) and RB Michael Dyer (70.7 - 10th) ... The Tigers' 13 touchdown plays this season have averaged 26.8 yards per play, including five that have covered at least 35 yards ... Auburn has four offensive linemen that have combined for 121 career starts, led by senior T Lee Ziemba, who has started all 41 games since arriving as a true freshman ... Auburn opponents are 1-for-11 on third-down conversions during the fourth quarter and overtime this season ... DT Nick Fairley leads the SEC in sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (7.0), and has at least one sack in every game this season ...} Auburn has won 57 consecutive games when scoring 30 or more points in a game, dating back to a 56-49, four-overtime loss to Georgia in 1996 ... Coach Gene Chizik's team has 11 players on its squad that have already graduated, which is second most in the nation among FBS schools ... Auburn ranks 11th nationally in tackles for losses and 12th in rushing offense. The Tigers rank 105th in turnover margin and 81st in net punting ... Newton ranks fourth nationally in passing efficiency and 21st in total offense.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
CB C. C. Whitlock: The junior displayed promise in the offseason and has fulfilled it in the first three games of the season. He told Coach Steve Spurrier he wants to play against Auburn despite losing his brother, who was shot, over the weekend. He needs to remain focused if the Gamecocks are to limit the Auburn passing game.
QB Stephen Garcia: He fell back into his 2009 form, making careless decisions against Furman. He threw two interceptions and missed easy throws. A repeat of that against Auburn will be disastrous.
OG Garrett Chislom: One of the Gamecocks' top offensive linemen has been emerging since earning a scholarship in the spring. He missed the Furman game to attend his father's funeral. He was missed and his return is paramount to the Gamecocks offensive success.
QB Cameron Newton -- All eyes are on the Tigers' talented junior-college transfer every week. Now that there's plenty of film of him out, though, he'll have to adjust to smarter defensive game plans. Clemson forced Newton to beat it with his arm, a task that Newton struggled with at times, as he threw two interceptions. Newton throws a great deep ball, but he needs to get more receivers involved in the passing game instead of focusing on Darvin Adams play after play.
OT John Sullen -- The sophomore will likely be starting the rest of the season for Auburn at right tackle after A.J. Greene's horrific ankle injury against Clemson. Sullen was the leader to win the open job during most of fall camp, but he suffered a costly shoulder injury down the home stretch. Greene snatched the job away from him at the last minute, relegating Sullen to backup duties. Now, it's Sullen's chance to prove that he should have been the starter out of the gate.
LB Craig Stevens -- The Tigers' second-best tackler in 2009 returned to the field Saturday against Clemson after serving a two-game suspension. His debut wasn't exactly impressive, as he blew a number of tackles and even helped Clemson score an early touchdown when he whiffed at hitting Jamie Harper. It's expected that Stevens, a second-team, All-SEC preseason selection, will only get better, but performances like Saturday's simply won't cut it, especially with Eltoro Freeman lurking behind him.