Auburn-South Carolina Preview
Although South Carolina is off to its best start in a decade, Steve Spurrier is frustrated. His offense is sputtering, as his All-American receiver has been inconsistent and his quarterback is throwing interceptions at an alarming rate.
Facing an Auburn defense that has routinely been run over could help the Head Ball Coach's offense finally get on track.
Spurrier's 10th-ranked Gamecocks hope to shore up some of their offensive woes and avoid losing a seventh straight game to Auburn as they meet Saturday in Columbia in a rematch of last season's SEC championship.
South Carolina (4-0, 2-0) is off to its best start since opening 5-0 in 2001, but the victories haven't been pretty. The Gamecocks trailed East Carolina 17-0 in the opener before rallying for a 56-37 victory, then were bailed out by two touchdowns from defensive end Melvin Ingram to beat Georgia 45-42 in Week 2. After a lackluster performance in a 24-21 win over Navy on Sept. 21, South Carolina's offensive ineptitude was on full display in last Saturday's 21-3 victory over Vanderbilt.
Stephen Garcia threw four interceptions, All-American receiver Alshon Jeffery had two catches for 34 yards and Marcus Lattimore, who came in leading the FBS in rushing with an average of 178.0 yards, finished with 77 on 20 attempts.
After the game, Spurrier apologized to Gamecock fans for the "putrid offensive performance.''
"We're not playing at the top of our game," he said. "Hopefully we have a top of our game."
The defense again stepped up, limiting the Commodores to 77 yards, and Ingram again scored a touchdown off a fumble recovery. Ingram has three scores - the same number of TDs by Garcia.
The Gamecocks senior quarterback has been much more adept at throwing interceptions - his seven are tied for the most in the FBS. Garcia's struggles have effectively negated Jeffery's production, limiting the star to four receptions and 69 yards in the last two games.
"I hope this is the last week we play like this offensively,'' Garcia said. "I don't think we can survive playing like this.''
South Carolina appears to have a good chance to get some of its offensive problems fixed against an Auburn team that ranks 110th out of 120 FBS schools in total defense, yielding 477.5 yards per game.
After surrendering 624 yards in a 38-24 loss to Clemson on Sept. 17 that snapped a 17-game winning streak, the Tigers (3-1, 1-0) allowed 307 yards in last Saturday's 30-14 victory over Florida Atlantic. The Owls came in ranked worst in the FBS in total offense, averaging 92.5 yards.
"We have to go back and really look at some things," coach Gene Chizik said. "It just wasn't a very good performance all the way around."
South Carolina's offense could also benefit from the debut of highly touted freshman receive Damiere Byrd, who sat out the first four games because of an NCAA suspension.
"We've got to play better offensively if we're going to make a run this year," Spurrier said.
Like the Gamecocks, Auburn's offense isn't where Chizik would like it to be.
The Tigers finished with a season-low 315 yards against a Florida Atlantic unit that came in ranked 107th in total defense, giving up an average of 451.0 yards. Junior Barrett Trotter passed for 178 yards - his third straight game with less than 200 - and sophomore Michael Dyer rushed for 68 yards after amassing 301 in his previous two.
"We've got to find a way to get out of (the rut)," Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. "We're a rhythm offense. When we're in a rhythm we're pretty good, and when we're not, we're not very good."
Auburn's offense, then led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, had little trouble against the Gamecocks last December, racking up 589 yards in a 56-17 victory.
The Tigers also beat South Carolina 35-27 at home last September, and have won six straight in the series since a 16-14 loss in 1933. They didn't meet from 1934-95.
This year's game opens a daunting portion of the schedule for Auburn, which follows with trips to No. 18 Arkansas and top-ranked LSU with a home date against No. 12 Florida sandwiched in the middle.
"It's going to be an extremely tall order," Chizik said. "We are going to go and play this SEC schedule like we do every year. We are going to try to get better every day and every week, and we are going to go in there and have great challenges but embrace those challenges and again try to improve."