The Gamecocks travel to Auburn this weekend to take on the Tigers, a formidable top-five team that appears to have advantages over Carolina across the board. What must Carolina do to win?
Three Keys to Victory
3. Commit to the run, and if the defense is only giving pass, don't get greedy. The fans are crying for Carolina to commit to the run in this game, and unless/until Auburn stacks the box, that's what the Gamecocks should do. Carolina has run the ball extremely well at times this year, and if it can do that for an extended period of time tomorrow, it can shorten the game, wear Auburn's defense out, and increase variance.
There's a good chance, though, that Ellis Johnson will gameplan with precisely this possibility in mind and seek to force Carolina to throw. If that happens, then the coaching staff and Dylan Thompson can't get greedy. Carolina's best offensive performance against meaningful competition came against UGA, particularly in the first half. Against the conventional wisdom that Carolina's offense is built to run, Carolina dominated that first half with the pass, but it was the medium-range pass and not the deep ball that was so devastating to the Dawgs. If forced to pass, Carolina needs to take what it can and not get behind schedule by throwing lots of incompletions deep. Granted, Auburn's secondary is superior to UGA's and is unlikely to leave the middle of the field wide open all night, but with a great slot receiver in Pharoh Cooper and a TE in Jerrell Adams looking for his breakout performance, there should be plays to be made in the short passing game if Dylan makes the throws.
2. Play with discipline on defense. Auburn is a power-running team that wants to use the run to set up explosive passing plays down field. Although Auburn's running game, and particularly its offensive line play, hasn't been quite as devastating as they were last year, the Tigers certainly run the ball well enough to strike fear into the heart of a Carolina defense that hasn't stopped much of anything on the ground this year. To make matters worse, defending the Tigers offense requires discipline. Although Auburn's offense is centered around a few base plays, Auburn shows lots of looks to try to confuse the defense and force mistakes. The Gamecocks defense has struggled to play with discipline this year, and it must do a better job of that tomorrow if it hopes to have any success against Auburn.
1. Play with abandon and try to force a high variance game. Let's face it: We're seven games into the season, and it's pretty clear that South Carolina has a mediocre team this year, while Auburn has a legitimate playoff contender. To make matters worse, the game is in Auburn. That's not to say that South Carolina can't make this game interesting if it plays at the level it played against Georgia earlier this year, but even if that happens, Auburn still has the advantage. To win, South Carolina needs to not only play its absolute best game; it also needs to create some game-changing moments in the form of turnovers and big special teams plays. The defensive coaches need to take some chances with well-timed blitzes. Special teams needs to come up with some plays that flip the field: big returns, blocked kicks, whatever. If the kickoff return unit has any trick plays it's been working on, this might be the time to try them. There's nothing to lose in this game; most of the team's goals are off the table, and no one expects Carolina to win. No reason not to take some chances, particularly in the defensive and special teams aspects of the game, where little is expected.
I think Carolina is going to play better in this game than most think. The Gamecocks aren't quite as bad as their record suggests, and a good challenge in the form of this Auburn team may bring the team that played UGA back out. Even if Carolina plays its best game, though, its going to need some breaks to beat an Auburn team that is simply much better than Carolina. The chances of such breaks coming to pass are, needless to say, low, particularly considering Carolina is neither disruptive on defense or good in the return game. I predict Carolina keeps this one relatively close throughout the game, but Auburn maintains control and pulls away late. I'll go with 42-31 Auburn.