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Game Preview: South Carolina vs. Auburn

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Another chance at bowl eligibility.

NCAA Football: Auburn at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks wrap up conference play this season with a night-time clash against the Auburn Tigers, which represent perhaps their last real chance at getting Win No. 6. There’s some extra seasoning to this matchup, given the coaching drama that happened between these programs in the offseason, and the Gamecocks have plenty to prove after laying an egg at Missouri last week. Here’s a quick look at what USC is up against.

What have they been up to lately? Auburn’s been a bit of a mixed bag this year. The Tigers fell just short against Penn State in what was then a battle against a top-10 team, got a good W over an impressively resurgent Arkansas squad, and outscored the high-flying Mississippi offense, but were rendered uncompetitive against Georgia (who hasn’t been, in fairness) and Texas A&M (been there too). Most recently, the Tigers are coming off a surprising 43-34 defeat to Mississippi State.

What happens when the Gamecocks have the ball? Jason Brown will once again start at quarterback for South Carolina, which was confirmation we didn’t exactly need from Shane Beamer but received anyway for some reason. The biggest question here is just how much of a fluke the Florida game was — and the Missouri game, for that matter. Can the Gamecocks find a way to tap into that performance against UF again? Like, even a little bit? Mustering only 57 rushing yards against Mizzou’s “defense” was, to put it plainly, horrific, but as bad as this offense has been, it’s not usually that bad. I don’t know. This isn’t really a Jekyll and Hyde team, because it’s mostly just been Jekyll, but we have seen glimpses of a competent, functioning offense. It’s in there somewhere, I think. Maybe. (Please.)

What happens when the Tigers have the ball? Remember Mike Bobo? Ah, how could you forget? The Gamecocks’ erstwhile offensive coordinator is now drawing up plays on the Plains, although he’ll do it without starter Bo Nix and instead with T.J. Finley at quarterback. South Carolina has had a nasty habit of making backups look like Joe Montana, and indeed, that’s already happened with T.J. Finley: At LSU last season, he went 17 of 21 for 265 yards, two touchdowns, and added a rushing score for good measure against the Gamecocks. There’s also the not-so-small matter of Tank Bigsby, a bluechip tailback South Carolina desperately wanted as a recruit who is now doing quite well for himself at Auburn, posting 776 yards with nine touchdowns so far this season (including a high water mark of 140 yards against Ole Miss). Given the Gamecocks’ recent struggles to defend the run and how thoroughly Mizzou’s Tyler Badie dominated last week, I expect to see these Tigers lean heavily on that approach as well.

What are we wearing? Last year’s win over Auburn featured big game garnet with a twist — black helmets instead of white. I’d be down to see that combination again, especially since the black helmet has been used sparingly this season. But, to quote the classic message board uniform curmudgeon, “I don’t care if we wear pink tutus as long as we win!!”

How are we feeling about this? Look, I know the curse was finally broken last season, but I have residual trauma and still can’t approach an Auburn game with anything other than extreme trepidation. South Carolina fans might also be the only ones in the nation who actually get more nervous when they hear the opponent’s starting quarterback is out. On the other hand, the Gamecocks have faced Finley before, so he’s not a true unknown. Then again, Auburn’s roster is simply more talented overall, and Bobo might have some intel to share as well. I don’t think USC comes away victorious in this one, but since we’ll only be a week out from the Clemson game, it’s really important that we at least see a far, far better effort than we did against Missouri.