No. 5 Auburn survives Hail Mary scare, tops Gamecocks, 42-35
Steve Spurrier had a long time to think about his decorated coaching career on Saturday night — in the span of one Hail Mary.
With South Carolina attempting a last-gasp rainbow pass in the final seconds of a 42-35 road loss to No. 5 Auburn, the Gamecocks head coach had enough time to contemplate two major occurrences:
1) If QB Dylan Thompson’s Hail Mary pass had somehow found the hands of a Gamecocks receiver, it might have been the starting point of perhaps Spurrier’s most satisfying victory (his postgame admission).
For those scoring at home, Spurrier has 223 career coaching victories, including 10 bowl wins and one national championship.
And for those watching the game at home … Auburn should have been flagged on the Hail Mary, since two different on-field performers — receiver D’haquille Williams and defensive tackle Montravius Adams — were wearing the same #1 jersey. That said, South Carolina still would have needed a long TD pass on the game’s final play.
2) If South Carolina had scored on the Hail Mary, the Ol’ Ball Coach had already decided the Gamecocks would go for the jugular on the two-point conversion — eschewing all conventional thinking of simply kicking the PAT and playing for overtime.
As things played out, Spurrier’s Gamecocks never got a chance to spring one of the season’s biggest upsets off the Hail Mary miracle or two-point conversion.
Instead, the night ultimately belonged to the Auburn offense — specifically quarterback Nick Marshall, who amassed four touchdowns (three rushing) in the Tigers’ close-shave home win.
The Tigers (6-1, 3-1 in SEC) had difficulty stopping Thompson (402 yards passing, five TDs) and the Gamecocks throughout the night, so much the Thompson-led offense was 5 for 5 on fourth-down conversions at one point in the final quarter.
But Auburn’s defense stiffened in the final five minutes, halting South Carolina on one red-zone drive and then corralling Thompson’s Hail Mary attempt (Jonathan Jones interception) at the final gun.
Spurrier’s last risk/reward opportunity — the Hail Mary — didn’t pay off, but he also had his share of successful gambles against the Tigers, including a stealth onside-kick recovery late in the third quarter … immediately after South Carolina knotted the score at 35.
Thompson eventually threw an interception on that drive, with Jonathan Jones collecting the first of his two picks.
With the victory, Auburn tied Florida State’s NCAA-high mark of 14 straight home wins. On the flip side, South Carolina (4-4, 2-4) has lost three consecutive SEC games for the first time since 2009.
Marshall ran for 89 yards and completed 12 of 14 passes for 139 yards. He also scored on a 37-yard sprint and runs of 4 and 9 yards.
Tailback Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for a game-high 167 yards. Receiver Ricardo Louis (109 total yards) ran for a 75-yard touchdown in the third quarter — the longest scoring run in the Gus Malzahn era at Auburn.
Malzahn and his coaching mentor (Spurrier) oversaw a remarkable offensive grudge match:
Each club had their quarterbacks catch at least one pass; and the teams mirrored one another in scoring for the first three quarters, rolling for 7, 14 and 14, respectively.
The difference: Auburn notched four TDs inside South Carolina’s 20-yard line. The Gamecocks, to Spurrier’s postgame dismay, were 2 of 5 with three interceptions in the red zone.