South Carolina vs. Auburn: Storylines

It'll be Gamecocks versus Tigers this weekend on the Plains of Auburn this weekend as South Carolina heads to the state of Alabama for their first road game and second SEC contest of the season. Auburn will be looking to continue their roll after a hard fought comeback win over Clemson, while Carolina will try to overcome the emotions of the past week and pick up a big W.

Overcoming a week of emotion

As I just mentioned above, this certainly has been a tumultuous week for the South Carolina Gamecocks, as all the USC fans are aware by now. While Garrett Chisolm dealt with the loss of his father over last weekend and into this week, the Carolina faithful also learned that two more significant blows had been dealt to the program.

Cornerback C.C. Whitlock lost a brother in a shooting in his hometown of Chester on Sunday, while all time Carolina great Kenny McKinley committed suicide on Monday evening.

For many players and teams, losses of that magnitude can be a huge factor in their quality of play. But USC and its coaching staff will do their best to pull together in the face of such sadness and use their grief as a positive, galvanizing force heading into this game.

"This is a tragic loss for all Gamecocks, especially his teammates and coaches that knew him well," said Spurrier in describing the passing of Carolina's all-time leading receiver. "Our players will hopefully do our grieving here the next day or so, and we'll remember Kenny for the good times. It's hard for us to comprehend how this all happened. We'll handle the best way we can here the next day or two."

Although Whitlock has missed much of the week of practice with the team, the coaching staff is hopeful he will be able to come back and make a contribution on Saturday.

"C.C. had a tragedy in his family," added Spurrier. "A lot of people may not know that his brother was shot and killed Sunday night. He didn't practice yesterday. He's going through grieving and counseling also. He's going to definitely try to play this week. He said, `I want to be with my team and play.' Hopefully we can make that happen also."

The Gamecocks will wear a sticker on their helmets commemorating McKinley this weekend.

First road test for South Carolina

After playing their first three games inside the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium, the Gamecocks will take their show on the road to Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn on Saturday. It will almost certainly be a capacity crowd for Auburn as they look to create a similar home field advantage to last week's game against Clemson. With a stadium seating 87,451, USC knows it will be a tough night communicating, and will look to be fundamentally sound, especially on offense.

"We've been in loud places before, although we haven't tested our new `call the plays at the line' (strategy) on the road yet," said Spurrier. "We haven't used a silent count yet. Hopefully we can pick up our foot, snap it and stay onside. We're working on our snaps. (It) will be a challenge doing some things differently as far as the way our offense goes about."

However, there are some advantages toward playing and possibly winning on the road. If the Gamecocks are able to take down the Tigers, it will be a huge boost to the perception of their football team in the national rankings. Also, with the game being televised nationally on ESPN, there will be a large television audience watching, awaiting the possibly coming out party for South Carolina.

"We're looking forward to the game with Auburn Saturday night - a national TV game," said Spurrier. "(It's) a big game for us to see if we can go on the road and beat a really good team. They've been very successful this year. They closed with a good victory in the Outback Bowl last year. They have a lot of momentum going, a big crowd and it should be a loud and exciting game."

South Carolina looking to buck the trend at Auburn

If South Carolina beats Auburn on Saturday night, it will certainly be a momentous occasion, and could be a springboard to unprecedented success in 2010. But if they do, USC will have to erase the bad taste in their mouth from their last trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium, as well as their overall struggles in the series. Although the teams have only faced each other eight times since the series began in 1930, Auburn owns a 6-1-1 record in the series. USC's only victory came in 1933 when they defeated the Tigers 16-14.

Auburn has won all four meetings in SEC play, including a 48-7 victory the last time the Gamecocks traveled to the Plains. USC is hoping it will be a different story in Saturday's game, as the 2005 game at Auburn saw them call two timeouts before their first offensive snap and eventually face a 48-0 deficit before finally tacking on a late touchdown.

South Carolina would love to pick up a huge road win and remain undefeated in the process, as well as pick up their second win in the series. But even if they don't, Spurrier says that his team will have a chance to do big things in the following games.

"That was interesting," said Spurrier. "That year (2005) after we got clobbered by Alabama and Auburn, we won five in a row. How do you figure that? That wasn't our strongest team here but we won a bunch of close teams down the stretch. Auburn has been a tough place to play for all their opponents. But we have tough place to play here as most all SEC teams do. We just have to go play. We have to line up, try to control the line of scrimmage and not get pushed around."

Battle of freshman running backs

If you are a South Carolina or Auburn fan, you are most likely very familiar with Marcus Lattimore and Michael Dyer, as well as the numerous comparisons they have faced this year and especially this week. Both were consensus five star running back recruits coming out of high school, and both were recruited heavily by Auburn.

Dyer, from Little Rock, Arkansas, picked the Tigers early on in the recruiting process, and Lattimore went down to the wire before choosing the in-state Gamecocks. Due to their connection in recruiting, the comparisons to their play on the field will likely continue throughout their entire careers.

Both players have had great success this season, especially for freshmen. Lattimore has carried 70 times for 340 yards and five touchdowns, while Dyer has gone for 220 yards on 39 carries with a touchdown. While Lattimore is the unquestioned leader of the South Carolina ground game, Dyer has been a part of a more diverse Auburn rushing attack, trailing Onterrio McCalebb and Cameron Newton in rushing yards.

Head coach Gene Chizik addressed his thoughts on the two talented freshmen this week, saying that both are living up to expectations early on in their careers.

"Just watching (Marcus) on film, he just looks really good," said Chizik. "He doesn't run the ball like a freshman. He's physical; he's everything we saw in recruiting. He's doing a great job."

USC fans aren't as familiar with Dyer, but Chizik says he is very happy with his progress so far and looks for him to take on more of a load in upcoming games.

"I am very proud of how he's progressed," said Chizik. "To me, number one is that he hasn't turned the ball over. He's hit the ball up in between the tackles and made some yards in between the tackles, sometimes when it's there and sometimes when it's not there, so that's good to see. I think he's going to get better and better as the games go along with his vision and being able to see that cut that he didn't see the first couple of weeks, and I believe that will come with him getting the ball more, the more experience and the more confident he feels moving forward in this league. We're ready for him to do more, but just evaluating him up to this point I'm proud of him and he's been very humble about doing it."

Lattimore will be facing an Auburn rush defense that currently ranks sixth in the SEC in yards allowed per game, giving up about 115 yards a game. Things will be very difficult for Dyer and company as they face a USC rush defense that is first in the SEC giving up just 59.7 yards per contest. Both teams will attempt to establish the run as a huge key to the game, and it will be interesting to the see the battle between these two "young guns" play out.

USC's receivers looking to play big

The Gamecocks will have one distinct advantage over the Auburn defense, and most of the defenses they play this year. USC's three starters at WR, Alshon Jeffery, Tori Gurley, and D.L. Moore, are 6'4'', 6'5'', and 6'4'' respectively.

These wide receivers will tower over the Auburn cornerbacks on Saturday, and could use the jump ball from Stephen Garcia as a big weapon in moving the chains and putting the ball in the end zone. Auburn's tallest cornerback is Neiko Thorpe at 6'2'', while Demond Washington checks in at 5'9'' and T'Sharvan Bell registers right at 6 feet tall.

Coach Chizik said that the stunning height at wide receiver is just part of what makes the South Carolina offense so dynamic.

"Without question, it is a very talented offense," said Chizik. "They've got great height from all their receivers. They have two extremely effective quarterbacks. They're not afraid to run their quarterbacks. Coach (Steve) Spurrier does a great job coaching the quarterbacks in terms of throwing the ball. Their running game with their tailbacks is pretty much hitting on all cylinders now as well. Going back to the receiver question, they are very talented, very athletic and obviously have some great size to them."

Auburn's secondary has yet to record an interception in three games this season, and will be looking to overcome a tall task to grab their first on Saturday.

Spreading the love

While Auburn and South Carolina both rank in the bottom third of the league in pass defense, both teams possess dynamic wide receivers that are dominating the statistics as well as opposing defenses.

USC has Alshon Jeffery, whose 19 receptions are about forty percent of Carolina's forty-nine completions. For Auburn, their leader at WR is Darvin Adams, who has pulled in a third of his teams passes with ten receptions.

Both teams may try to diversify, but will also focus on their biggest playmakers, who will have a chance to shine on Saturday.

"We were sitting in there talking a few minutes ago that with Alshon, you have to figure the other teams will start putting two guys on him," said Spurrier. "We need to get other receivers involved. Tori Gurley caught a few last week. We need to get more of the other guys involved. We need to complete more passes."

Chizik said Auburn faces much of the same dilemma as Adams begins to face double teams to try and take away the Tigers biggest receiving threat. Auburn will have to diversify but may have some opportunities against the worst pass defense in the SEC this year.

"(We've) had some guys make some really big plays, some really good catches, but you're also starting to see them get double-teamed," said Chizik. "That's something that we'll really have to look at in terms of being able to get the ball to more guys. In that regard, we have to look at some things."

Containing Cam

South Carolina's defense will literally face a tall task in trying to contain Auburn's quarterback Cam Newton. Newton, a 6'6'' transfer from Blinn junior college in Texas and former Florida backup, is the Tigers leading rusher and passer this season, and has spent a lot of time frustrating defenses with his blend of size and speed. Newton has 353 yards rushing to go along with 525 yards passing. Total he has accounted for nine touchdowns.

"He's a big guy, 6'6, 250 and runs a lot," said Spurrier. "Very good runner and passer. We have to stop the run first and get him throwing the ball. (We need to) hold onto him. He can shake an arm or hand tackle. You have to get a good grasp on a quarterback that's that big, strong and elusive. He's a good athlete back there. He may have as many rushing yards as their tailbacks, but he's a good runner and passer. We have to slow him down definitely."

Despite his talents, Auburn's offense has been frustrated for parts of the last two games against Mississippi State and Clemson. With just seven completions against the other Tigers, Newton will have to step it up to take down the Gamecocks.

Defensive coach Ellis Johnson reminded fans that these struggles are indicative of a young quarterback, and USC can stop Newton with sound play on their side of the ball.

"What everybody has to remember is that Cam is a young player," said Johnson. "He's making some really good throws – he can make any throw that's been invented. Is he making them consistently and accurately, I don't know."

Carolina's defense will get a big boost with the return of Shaq Wilson, who has been out the entire year so far with a severe hamstring pull. Wilson, who is responsible for making the calls on defense at the Mike linebacker position, will try to contain a complex and versatile Auburn offense that starts with #2 behind center.

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