Coming off one of the most dominant efforts against an SEC opponent in limiting Vanderbilt to 77 total yards in a 21-3 victory last week, the question entering this week was can the South Carolina defense play with the same effort against one of the most potent offenses in the country.
The Gamecocks did just that, limiting the Auburn Tigers to just 16 points - 18 below their season average - and 358 yards of offense. That sounds like a ton of yardage, but the Tigers ran 92 offensive plays in the game, just four yards per play.
"(Number of plays) Is a problem and you could see some of the fatigue – our tackling was not as physical at the end," assistant head coach Ellis Johnson said after the game. "Our pass rush was still good, but probably not quite as effective. It affects you mentally. You can't have but so many bullets in a gun. When you get to try every play in the playbook eventually something works."
However, it would not be enough as the Gamecock offense struggled yet again and Auburn walked away with a 16-13 upset of the tenth-ranked Gamecocks.
Carolina's defense had held the Tigers to 250 yards on 68 plays and held a 13-9 lead after three quarters, but the fourth quarter is where it all ended as Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb took over.
Dyer rushed for 39 of his game-high 141 yards on 12 fourth quarter carries, and McCalebb rushed for 29 yards on three carries, including a 19-yard run on third and nine on the game-winning drive. Auburn ran the ball 67 times for 246 yards in the game
"The run game was effective tonight because he had to run that play over and over," Johnson said of Dyer's performance. "When you look at the accumulation of stats and yards, it's there because of the number of plays. We were very effective against their run game until it got to the point where they got to about 55 rushes. I really think you have to give kudos to Dyer. He was hurt and got hurt during the game and had over 40 carries (41). You really have to give him credit for hanging in there and coming back into the game and pounding it in there."
The game nearly took a turn for the better at the end of the third quarter. C.C. Whitlock intercepted a Barrett Trotter pass at the Carolina 40-yard line and returned it across field and down to the Auburn 45, but Philip Lutzenkirchen stripped the ball and fell on it to give Auburn a new start at the Auburn 48. Whitlock would get the last laugh in this encounter, making an acrobatic interception in the end zone early in the fourth quarter to end the Tiger drive. However, Auburn ran an additional 10 plays and the Gamecocks lost 35 yards in the exchange.
"The one element of that is you have to give him a lot of credit for bouncing back and making what I thought was an unbelievable interception, but at the same time if he takes care of that football you wipe away (ten) plays off the board in the second half," Johnson said.
In the end, it would be a case of Déjà vu as Lutzenkirchen would catch a touchdown pass to win the came on the very same play he scored on in 2010 in Jordan-Hare Stadium to win that game. Trotter and the entire team rolled right, Lutzenkirchen ran across the field to the left and Trotter hit him for the game-winning touchdown. Still, it was the Gamecock defense that once again single-handedly kept the team in the game.
"We have a lot of things we need to get better on," Johnson said. "We made some mental mistakes, but covering up a little bit of those with physical play and great effort. I'm very proud of our football players, don't get me wrong. They gave tremendous effort tonight and gave us a chance to win, but there was some critical plays at critical times were we had a mental error on something. We've got plenty to work on to continue to get better. It's like I said after the Vanderbilt game; we're an above-average group with a few good playmakers. If we come to practice with the right attitude and come to the park with a chip on our shoulders we can win some ballgames. If we do it any other way we're going to be very sad."
Defense wears down in the end
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