In week four, the Gamecocks will hit the road for a big test against the Auburn Tigers. In Gene Chizik's first year on the Plains, the Tigers bounced back nicely from a dismal 2008, and they're looking to take the next step this season after putting together a stunningly impressive recruiting class. That being the case, this will undoubtedly be a tough game for Carolina.
The Gamecocks have historically struggled against Auburn. We have an overall 1-6-1 record against the Tigers, with the lone win coming during the Great Depression. Many of you will remember the last meeting between the two schools, when Syvelle Newton nearly led the Gamecocks to an upset over the second-ranked Tigers in 2006. You may not want to remember, though, the trouncing the Tigers gave us the year prior to that.
Let's take a closer look at what Auburn brings to the table.
Offense: The biggest part of Auburn's turnaround last season owed to the introduction of Guz Malzahn's spread offense, which transformed a once-moribund Tigers offense into one the SEC's best. Under Malzahn's tutelage, Auburn ranked 16th and 17th in total and scoring offense, respectively. What made their success so surprising was that they did it with largely the same lineup that they had in 2008, when they fielded one of the country's most ineffective offenses. This year projects to be even better, as the Tigers have upgraded their personnel at key positions.
Malzahn is probably best known among football fans for popularizing the Wildcat while coaching Darren McFadden at Arkansas, but his major contribution to offensive coaching is his emphasis on tempo and the no-huddle. His Xs and Os are actually quite simple; he has described his scheme as favoring the run and play-action. Nothing too shocking there, although his plays and formations often look wacky because he uses lots of motion to throw defenses off. These emphases on being simple-yet-deceiving and on putting the defense's back against the wall with the no-huddle are the keys to the dreaded Malfense.
Defense: As stunning as Auburn's offensive success was, their defensive struggles were equally stunning. This is a program long known for powerful defenses under Tommy Tuberville, and Gene Chizik was expected to continue that tradition, if nothing else. Yet, the Tigers ranked 68th in total and 79th in scoring defense. While the tempo Auburn played at was partly at fault, it remains the case that this unit had some trouble last year, particularly against the run. With DE Antonio Coleman (SEC leader in sacks and tfl) and DT Jake Ricks gone from the line, that may again be the case this year. Auburn does return eight starters overall on defense, but whether or not that's a blessing will remain to be seen.
Player Whose Name You Should Remember: Cameron Newton, QB. Newton, as you will remember, was formerly Tim Tebow's backup at Florida before the University dismissed him in light of theft charges. Newton played last fall at Blinn College, where he racked up impressive stats, and signed with the Tigers over the winter. He recently won the starting job over Neil Caudle, Barrett Trotter, and Clint Moseley.
Physically, Newton is reminiscent of Tebow--he is 6'6 and weighs 240+. Similar to Tebow, he is very much a running threat; he has often been called a more mobile version of JaMarcus Russell for his combination of arm strength and speed. He'll be a great addition to the Malfense.
Another Tiger you might remember is F OG Eric Mack, who committed to us early last recruiting season but in the end spurned us for the Tigers after allegedly negative recruiting against us while still committed. He probably won't play, as I expect the Tigers will redshirt him. That's unfortunate, because I'd really love to see Travian Robertson place him on his butt.
What to Expect: We've played well against great offenses before, and I expect we'll hold our own against these Tigers. It won't be easy, though, as I expect this team to have one of the, if not the, best offenses in the SEC. Malzahn appears to be that good, and with Newton under center, the Tigers should be prepped for big things this year. Expect Auburn to score their share of points, even if we manage to keep them relatively in check. On the flip side, if we're getting anything out of our running game by this point in the year, we should be able to move the ball effectively against what might be a porous defense.
One other thing to keep in mind is that while we play Furman the week before this game, Auburn plays Clemson. That means that we may have a bit of extra time to prepare for this game.
Prediction: I think this game is probably going to end in a loss for the Gamecocks. I think we're imminently capable of playing with Auburn--both of these two programs have come a long way, albeit in different directions, since their last series in 2005-06. Auburn will be better, granted, than it was the past two years, but so will we, I think. With the game being on the road, though, I'm going to give the advantage to the Tigers in what should otherwise be a fairly evenly matched game. I'm calling a 3-7 point Auburn victory.