USC Falls Just Short to Auburn

Unranked and unheralded South Carolina dominated #2 Auburn in every significant offensive category except one – scoring in the red zone. Auburn scored on all four of their possessions in the red zone, while USC only scored on one of their four trips, and Auburn prevailed 24-17.

The Gamecocks had 24 first downs to Auburn's 16, and ran 69 offensive plays to the Tiger's 54. They converted on 6 of 13 third down attempts, and limited Auburn to making 4 out of 10 third down attempts. It took a surprise onside kick in the third quarter, which enabled the Tigers to make every single offensive play in the third quarter, and in turn kept Syvelle Newton and the South Carolina offense off the field. USC still held an edge in the time of possession battle, 30:20 to Auburn's 29:40, despite Auburn's controlling the ball for the entire third quarter.

USC Head Football Coach Steve Spurrier found no comfort in the statistics immediately after the game as he pored over the stat sheet while addressing the media. Visibly clenching the sheet as he spoke, he said, "I told the team we're just not good enough to beat Auburn right now. Hopefully, someday we will be."

The game wasn't over until the final 23 seconds, when Sidney Rice was unable to catch a fourth down pass from Syvelle Newton in Auburn's end zone. The painful ending overshadowed the best performance by a USC quarterback in the last five years. Newton passed for 240 yards to seven different receivers in only three quarters of play, finding the open man in Steve Spurrier's complicated offense, and scrambing until he found an open man time and time again when Auburn's blitz overcame his protection. When there wasn't an open man to find, he would tuck the ball and run, frequently on third down, and move the chains. No matter the circumstance, his team rallied behind him, and gave one of the nation's best teams all they could handle until the very end.

Spurrier commented on Newton's play. "Syvelle had a tremendous game," he said. "He's played three games at quarterback and is making a lot of plays."

Newton hit seven different receivers on the night, and had a sure touchdown dropped by redshirt freshman tight end Jared Cook in the end zone on the final drive. Cook had caught his first touchdown as a Gamecock on the previous USC drive on a similar play.

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said of Newton, "When we rushed three, he scrambled and outran us. When we rushed four, we had a hard time matching up in the slot on some of the coverages."

Wide receiver Kenny McKinley was the offensive story of the first half. By halftime, he had already had his best game ever in a Gamecock uniform, with 6 receptions for 101 yards receiving. His touchdown reception with less than a minute to play in the half was the first touchdown allowed by Auburn in SEC play this season. He bruised his collarbone and was unavailable for much of the fourth quarter, and his replacement, true freshman Chris Hail, played well in his place. McKinley finished the night having caught eight passes for 110 yards and the one touchdown. Spurrier commented after the game, "What a game Kenny McKinley had."

Pre-season All-SEC receiver Sidney Rice had a quieter game than last week's record-setting performance, losing a jump ball in the end zone to Auburn linebacker Will Herring, and catching a beautiful long distance ball from Syvelle Newton just out of bounds. Spurrier commented, "We did try to throw the ball at Kenny and Sidney. They played pretty well."

USC running back Cory Boyd had the defensive play of the first half, stripping and recovering the ball in what appeared to be a sure Tiger touchdown after Newton fumbled the ball, as Auburn was streaking down the field towards the Carolina endzone. After restarting the drive, they again drove down to the red zone, and came away with the first points of the game on a 49 yard field goal by Ryan Succop. The kick would have been good from 65 yards.

Auburn's first touchdown was controversial, as Kenny Irons was ruled from the field to have scored on a 4th down play from the one yard line, but Carolina players and fans came away cheering after the Gamecock defense had apparently stopped him. Upon review, the play stood as called on the field as there was not enough evidence to overturn the play.

The second Auburn touchdown was classic smash mouth football, with Irons doing most of the damage as the Tiger offense pounded the ball down the field for an 80 yard drive. Quarterback Brandon Cox then threw the ball into the end zone for seven points on a 9 yard pass to Tommy Trott from Brandon Cox.

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