Well, I was wrong: South Carolina did not beat Auburn. In fact, we didn't even come close, as Auburn dominated Carolina to the tune of a 56-17 final score. My hat goes off to the Tigers, who proved that they're clearly worthy of a bid to play against Oregon for the national title. They came ready to play in this game, they came with a good game plan, and they executed more or less flawlessly other than for brief moments late in the second half. Cameron Newton put the finishing touches on an already sterling Heisman campaign. The Auburn defense did its part with a dominant performance.
Carolina cannot say these things for itself. I don't think that our showing was quite as bad as the final score indicated. This was one of those games that proves that a few slightly off plays here and there can make a huge difference in a game's outcome. For the first two-and-a-half quarters, Carolina hung somewhat tough with Auburn. However, we generally failed to seal the deal when we had chances to make key plays. The Carolina offense frequently moved the ball into Auburn territory only to see drives bog down. Stephen Garcia was off on a pass to Marcus Lattimore that would have resulted in a TD. On another play, Garcia made a decent third-down pass to Lattimore, Lattimore made a leaping grab, but an Auburn defender pushed Lattimore out of bounds before Lattimore could get a foot down. That play would usually be a good one, but it didn't work out that time. Spencer Lanning closely missed two key FGs. It was one of those games where the offense seemed to be just a little off its game. The Carolina defense was similarly close-yet-oh-so-far. Carolina got pressure on Newton at times but could never seem to take him down, and in what was really one of the keys of the game, Auburn got a freak TD on a tipped ball in the end zone on a late-first-half Hail Mary.
Against a team like Auburn, you can't afford to be anything but perfect. As the game went on, Carolina continued to fail to take advantage of its opportunities, and Auburn's lead began to grow. Eventually, Carolina lost its handle on the game, and the flood
gates opened and Auburn rolled to a lopsided victory. Sometimes it's only a few plays that make the difference between a close game and a blowout. That's the difference between good and great teams, however, and after this game, it's clear that while Carolina had a good team this year, it didn't have an elite team. We're not ready to consistently play with the best teams in the country yet.
A few other thoughts on the game:
- I thought that our schematic game plan on offense was fairly well conceived. We came in knowing we'd have trouble running between the tackles and that we'd have to neutralize Auburn's defensive line, and I liked the early attempts to run Lattimore outside the tackles, and I thought we did some interesting things in the short passing game. Our undoing was our inability to deal with the blitz.
- One element of Auburn's success was the great coverage packages Ted Roof and his staff had drawn up to deal with Alshon Jeffery. At the same time, though, you have to wonder if we should have tried to figure out more ways to Jeffery the ball.
- Garcia--whew, man. Pick yourself up after that one.
- Our secondary has apparently not gotten as much better since the Arkansas game as I thought. A lot of the old problems manifested themselves yet again. Stephon Gilmore--get it together, man. I never expected to see you get manhandled like that.
- I take back every nice thing I've ever said about Gary Danielson after this game. I knew what to expect from Verne before the game, and we got the usual senility. (The best example was when Verne called a five yard gain on a 3rd-and-15 a first down.) But Danielson I usually like for his play-by-play insights. Tonight, though, he was more interested in defending the NCAA's decision on the Newton pay-for-play situation. Listen, Gary: we know that you're interested in promoting the SEC / CBS brand, and your discussion of the Newton scandal came off for what it was, an attempt to whitewash the SEC's image. I don't know what happened with the Newton case, and I've accordingly expressed my unwillingness to pass judgment on the situation until damning evidence comes out. What I do know is that Gary Danielson doesn't know enough about the situation to say anything substantial one way or the other, and his attempt to do so was shameful. Gary's claim that we were faking injuries to slow down Auburn's hurry-up offense was also pretty ridiculous.
- The CBS crew might have outdid itself, though, when Tracy Wolfson gave herself a (money?) shot of Cammy-Cam Juice. Good God was that surreal. And WTF was up with Newton getting carried onto the field by his "supporting cast"? Ugh. I never thought I'd say this, but I think I might miss Tim Tebow after that one.
That's a wrap on this one, folks.