Three Keys to Victory
3. Keep Up the Focus and Momentum on Defense
The defense played an aggressive, focused game of football against Vanderbilt. It'll be a bigger challenge against a tougher, more diverse Auburn offense. That said, this isn't Auburn's offense from last year; Gus Malzahn is still there and is good enough to make any group of decent players somewhat productive, but his personnel is definitely a work in progress right now. I expect we'll see the Gamecocks use more zone coverages considering Auburn's proclivities to run the ball and it's frequent use of misdirection and gadget plays in the passing game, but on the more obvious passing downs--and there will be a lot of those if our run defense can step up and bottle up Michael Dyer--I want to see us run more of the press man coverages we ran last week against Vanderbilt. If we can get into a lot of situations of that nature, I like our defensive line's chances to wreak havoc on Barrett Trotter and perhaps force a couple of turnovers.
2. Avoid Committing Turnovers
We can't turn the ball over four times in this game and hope to win; Auburn will score a lot more than three points off turnovers if we do. Case closed. For us to do well in this department, Stephen Garcia needs to make good decisions. However, the following also needs to happen:
1. Come Up with an Offensive Gameplan that Allows Us to Move the Ball Efficiently
Notice that I didn't say "open up the passing game" or "get big plays." Going against a team with a struggling defense, we don't need to get cute--We need to wear Auburn out. Go back and look at the play-by-plays of Auburn's close calls against Utah St. and Miss. St. You'll see that the Aggies and the Bulldogs managed to mount several long, tiring drives against a wilting Auburn defense. In this game, USC therefore needs to embrace its offensive identity as a run-first team with a great tailback, a running quarterback, and a tough offensive line. We can throw in some simple passing plays on second-and-short and third-and-long; hit Alshon Jeffery on the curls and slants, hit Justice Cunningham and Rory "Buster" Anderson on the crossing routes, hit Ace Sanders or Damiere Byrd on the catch-and-runs, etc. Stuff Garcia is capable of hitting. If we get a two-score lead, that's when we should see if Garcia can hit someone, perhaps Jeffery or Byrd, on the deep route. If we follow this simple plan, I have little doubt that we'll move the ball effectively all afternoon. We'll also keep our defense off the field, off-setting Auburn's attempt to gas the defense with it's up-tempo offense.
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What It Means
Well, it's an SEC game, and a win along with a Florida loss against Alabama will result in the Gamecocks taking first place in the SEC East all to their selves. There's also the revenge factor. I don't think that anyone here can say that they don't want to see Carolina crush Auburn after watching the Tigers beat us twice last year, once in the fourth quarter in Jordan-Hare, later in a rout in the SEC Championship Game. Those were both heart breakers in their own ways, and a victory here would be cathartic.
I have a very good feeling about this game. We match up well against Auburn in the trenches, and if we don't turn the ball over too much, I think we win. If we don't turn it over and Garcia throws the ball with some accuracy, we could very well win this one going away. I think we win, but I wouldn't be surprised if the offense gets a bit greedy at some point and makes a mistake that costs us a chance to allow our statistical dominance to show on the scoreboard. Those mistakes won't hurt us too much, though, because our defense will show out and bottle up an Auburn offense that is far less formidable than what the Tigers had last year. I'm calling for the Gamecocks to win 28-17. Take all of that with a grain of salt, though. I said the same thing about Georgia and we found ourselves in close game against the Dawgs. At this point, though, I feel that our defense has settled in and that our offense, whatever the case may be otherwise, should be playing within itself a bit more so than the past couple of games.