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It took playing a very average Vandertbilt offense to get the Gamecocks defense going. Now, seemingly just in time, an Auburn defense that has struggled comes into Williams-Brice. Is this the week the offense finally clicks?
PORTER: If South Carolina doesn't get the offense going the next two weeks, they're going to struggle all year. Auburn brings in an atrocious defense and Kentucky is just as bad. Auburn is last in the SEC in passing and rushing defense, as well as points per game given up. Stephen Garcia obviously has a lot on his mind – and we'll never know if that has been weighing him down all season – but he will feel the weight of the world off his shoulders with an early touchdown pass. He looked to be the most relieved quarterback in college football when he hit Alshon Jeffery for the touchdown last week before it was overturned. An early touchdown pass against the Tigers can turn his season around.
MITCHELL: David may have said it all. I still stand by my opinion that the multiple penalties played as much a factor as anything in keeping the offense from clicking against Vanderbilt. Garcia did look relieved after throwing that touchdown pass and then even that was taken from him. Garcia has the backing of his teammates and I think they'll be ready to rally around him. He just needs to have some success early in the game so that the "here we go again" mentality doesn't pop up. Garcia had three of the better quarters of his career in Auburn last year before struggling in the fourth quarter so he's shown he can have success against the Tigers' defensive brand.
LOHD: It will be interesting to see how effective USC is against the Auburn defense. Auburn's defense has had trouble stopping the run all season, giving up 226 rushing yards per game. So Marcus Lattimore should be effective but hopefully he will not be the only weapon as USC's passing attack should find success also. Auburn's defense is yielding 31 points per game this season and all that USC needs is a good showing from Stephen Garcia. Auburn's pass defense allows 251 yards per game and their pass efficiency defense is ranked 90th in the nation. I feel this is the week as USC has toned down the offense and really they need to execute short passes to get the confidence going for the passing attack.
LIFE: This offense could really excel this weekend given the glaring weaknesses in both Auburn's run and pass defense this season. They are giving up 251 yards through the air and 226.5 on the ground while allowing 31 points per game. The recipe is there for Stephen Garcia, Alshon Jeffery, and Marcus Lattimore to have some big games. Garcia will be given every chance to make an impact this weekend.
Don't look now but Vic Hampton had a solid debut and the coaches seem optimistic that adding Brison Williams to the secondary will provide another capable body. Could the days of struggles back there soon be gone?
PORTER: I'm not ready to say the problems will be gone yet. Hampton proved to be a big pick- up last week as he played well, even though he got caught napping once on a double-move but Larry Smith was too busy running for his life to see the wide open receiver. Brison Williams will be another huge addition if he shows to be healthy and ready mentally to play in an SEC ballgame. That secondary will get plenty of opportunities against Auburn to make some plays. I'll get back to you next week on the struggles ending.
MITCHELL: That's a bit premature. That secondary is going to have to prove it can play well against a passing team before I'm ready to say that. But the days of wondering if one injury there could derail an entire game or games may be over. Those guys are going to have to prove themselves but at the very least the depth problems appear to be taken care of for now.
LOHD: Yes as depth is there now and the USC secondary can be aggressive. The squad could still make mistakes as they may be prone to gamble but certainly the talent is now in place to make the defense even stronger. No worries with the secondary.
LIFE: Victor Hampton's nice debut and the quick healing of Brison Williams gives this secondary the boost it needs heading into the meat of their SEC schedule. The next two games are winnable for South Carolina and getting these young players experience will pay off when they hit the three-game road trip starting in October. DeVonte Holloman has done really well as the starter at safety the past few weekends and Williams gives him a solid backup. This team could be hitting a stride at just the right time.
On the other hand, a position of strength (depth at running back) has quickly become a question mark after injuries to Shon Carson and Kenny Miles in the Georgia game. Assess the running back position behind Marcus Lattimore.
PORTER: Eric Baker just doesn't seem to be the same guy from 2008 when he rushed for 182 yards his freshman season. The injury problems – particularly the ACL injury he suffered before the Papa John's Bowl in 2009 – have seemed to have taking a toll on him. To be brutally honest, he showed nothing last week. Even though Vandy was stacking the box all night, three yards on three carries is not exactly taking advantage of your opportunity.
On the other hand, Brandon Wilds showed that he wants to be thrown into the mix after a nice 16-yard run late in the game. Wilds finished with 22 yards on three carries. I would still give the slight edge to Baker over Wilds based on experience, but Wilds is quickly moving up. Without a healthy Miles, the gap between Lattimore and the other running backs is too huge to keep Lattimore from carrying it 30 times in a close game.
MITCHELL: I'm trying to give Eric Baker the benefit of the doubt as it sometimes take running backs a few carries to find their groove, especially a back who hasn't carried the ball in live action in so long. Wilds has certainly been a positive surprise and appears to have a bright future. It's not a definite negative but I'd say it's safe to say the position behind Lattimore would have to be considered a major question mark at the very least until Miles can get healthy.
LOHD: They have the players back their but there has not been the opportunity to utilize their talents. Eric Baker, Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles are all capable backs to spell Lattimore but there just has not been the right time to get them in there to help. The reason is simple, the need for Lattimore has been too strong. USC has needed their ace to lead the Gamecocks to four victories and until that changes, the other backs will not get the reps. Hopefully, moving forward the offense becomes more balanced which will yield to more opportunities for other backs to get quality reps.
LIFE: Well it's hard to get carries behind the Marcus Lattimore show but who do you give it to when your top two backups are injured. It opened up a chance for Brandon Wilds and Eric Baker to get a few carries last weekend and Wilds looked good in limited action. I think he's got the size to handle the big hits and seems to have good hands out of the backfield as he had a few nice catches against Vanderbilt. Baker could be the speed back if he gets a chance but it seems like to me that Wilds will get the first look outside of Lattimore this weekend.
Steve Spurrier and even some of the offensive players have talked about simplifying the offense to an extent this week. Good move? And how much will it help?
PORTER: I think it's a pretty good idea, particularly for Garcia. Perhaps simplifying the offense will slow things down a little bit for him. I think Spurrier believes that Garcia is right on the brink, which is why he hasn't blasted him the way he has done the past three years. With a horrible defense coming to town, slow things down a bit and get him some confidence. One thing I think we will see this week is a deep ball to someone not named Alshon Jeffery. Nothing factual, just something a little Byrd told me.
MITCHELL: Can't me as one who doesn't believe there has been anything wrong with the playcalling itself - say what you will but there have been receivers open in the passing game on nearly every play the last couple of weeks. Still, there's obviously a problem with the offense and the players have looked out of sync at times. That all falls on execution but the less thinking the players have to do the more likely they are to execute properly. In other words, it can't hurt, and if that's what it takes to get the offense rolling then by all means. As much as teams are going to sell out to stop Lattimore, it may not take a complicated passing attack to make defenses pay.
LOHD: Yes it is a good move. No need to complicate things as USC has the talent on offense, they just need to find ways to get the ball to the playmakers hands in space. Going simple should mean more short passes, screens and crossing patterns to the receivers. No need to try a deep slant until you can loosen up the defensive coverage by being effective in the short to immediate game. Sometimes simplicity is a beautiful thing.
LIFE: At this point of the season it seems like it should be reversed with a more complicated offense. Players should be comfortable in this offense by now. However, they haven't played well at all this season so it's almost like a refresher at this point. Get back to the basics and try and "rebuild" from here. It should help the play-calling issues and give players the understanding where to line up and where they should be at all times. I think it's a good move because not much has worked besides Marcus Lattimore in 2011.
Auburn may not have Cam Newton anymore, but schematically Gus Malzahn presents one of the more difficult offenses to prepare for in major college football. What's the single biggest key for the Gamecocks' defense this week?
PORTER: Keep everything in front of you. That mainly goes to the secondary because I think the defensive line can get upfield on Trotter because he isn't near the threat running the ball that Newton was. The secondary can't lose guys because it will turn into a touchdown as we saw in the SEC Championship game. Sacrifice the short passes to an extent to keep from getting beat on the double move.
MITCHELL: It all comes down to assignment football and not allowing Malzahn's misdirection to keep the defense flat-footed. The Auburn offense is going to have its positive plays but it shouldn't be the juggernaut it was with Newton at the helm. Several times in last year's regular season matchup between the two teams, South Carolina defenders had Auburn players in their sights in the open field and couldn't make the tackle. They'll need to make those tackles Saturday.
LOHD: Disruption in the Auburn backfield by the USC defensive line. The Gamecocks need to get after it much like they did against Vanderbilt. Auburn allowed Florida Atlantic to get three sacks and 12 quarterback hurries last week. Safe to assume that the USC defensive line has more talent than the Owls. This should mean success in disrupting Auburn and not allowing Trotter to stand there and pick the USC defense apart. Also USC should be able to get pressure early on the Auburn running backs before they can get started. Defensive pressure is the key this week versus Auburn.
LIFE: I think the biggest thing is shutting down Auburn's running game. The Gamecocks have to find a way to keep Michael Dyer in check and limit the big plays from Onterrio McCalebb. There is a lot of speed between those two running backs and they are very versatile out of the backfield. McCalebb is the bigger receiving threat out of the two. Barrett Trotter is not the physical presence at QB that Cam Newton was last year but I'd rather our secondary take a chance against him than having Dyer and McCalebb have big games on the ground.
PORTER: Auburn is the only conference program South Carolina has yet to beat since joining the SEC. They've come close several times; a 28-24 loss in 1996, a 24-17 loss in 2006, and of course the 35-27 loss last season in Jordan-Hare where Cam Newton was introduced to the world. I think this is the season the Gamecocks get over the hump and finally get to say they've beaten every team in the conference since joining in 1992. I think Spurrier will try and keep Auburn's offense on the sideline with a steady dose of Marcus Lattimore. I can see him getting 25-30 carries this week to control the time of possession. It will be another close game throughout with Carolina coming out on top, 35-31.
MITCHELL: Put simply, if South Carolina is going to have the season it wants to then this is game it has to win. Gamecocks find a way to do just that, 35-27.
LOHD: 27-17. USC should present a balanced offensive attack and the lead will not be in jeopardy at any point. Take the win and move on.
LIFE: My prediction is South Carolina wins 31-24. I think there could be some big plays from both teams early in this game and then a down to the wire finish. I think Lattimore has a real big day and Alshon goes over the 100-yard mark for the first time this season. Antonio Allen and Melvin Ingram should have big days once again on defense.