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Auburn at South Carolina Preview: Checking in on USC's Defense

Whereas USC's offense struggled against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks' defense played one of its best games in years. Some have attributed the success to Vandy's offensive ineptitude, and certainly that's part of the issue. Vandy has few playmakers on offense, it has a weak offensive line, and it's offensive gameplan against the Gamecocks was about as vanilla as it gets. That said, I don't think anyone can deny that USC showed some things its opponents will have to worry about in weeks to come. Here is what I'd like to see more of against Auburn.

More USC pass rush, please. Auburn's Barrett Trotter has impressed at QB this season. He's no Cameron Newton, but he's proven to be a serviceable replacement. However, he had his third-lowest passer rating of the season this past weekend against a porous Florida Atlantic defense. Why? Mainly because he was under a lot of pressure. Auburn, which started a very experienced, senior-laden line during last year's championship run, is currently playing a lot of youngsters on the offensive line. It's a more talented, athletic group than what we saw against Vanderbilt last week, when USC broke out for a sack party. However, it's also less experienced, and I think there will be ample opportunity to force Trotter off his game. If USC can do that, expect more stellar overall defensive play and game-changing turnovers.

More aggressive secondary play, please. Last week against Vanderbilt, USC went into press-man coverage on most obvious passing downs--which was many downs, considering that we forced a loss on the first play of many of Vandy's drives. The results speak for themselves. My impression is that our cornerbacks are all more comfortable in this type of coverage--they're all great athletes and playmakers. They generally stayed with their man the few times Vandy went downfield and hit the receiver immediately on the short completions. Auburn has more weapons than Vandy, and we we'll see the Tigers beat our secondary at times on Saturday. However, I like our chances of coming up with the key stops if we let our guys play in a scheme that takes advantage of their athleticism. We'll likely play various zone coverages on non-passing downs in order to keep close tabs on Auburn's formidable running game--which worked fine last week, by the way. It's the breakdowns in zone coverage on passing downs that seemed to be really killing us going back to last year.

Control time of possession, please. This is directed more towards the offense, but it's important for the defense. A large part of the philosophy behind Gus Malzahn's up-tempo offense is to run as many plays as possible in order to wear out the opposing defense by game's end. This worked to perfection for Auburn when we visited the Plains last season. In order to combat this, we need to do two things: play ball-control offense and play a disruptive game on defense that makes it difficult for Auburn to run the no-huddle effectively. If we can do that, we'll be the ones in the driver's seat at the end of the game, not Auburn.