The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: A pair of top-25 teams square off in SEC action at Jordan-Hare Stadium, as the 17th-ranked Auburn Tigers play host to the 12th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks.
Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks have certainly lived up to their preseason hype thus far, as they have jumped out to a 3-0 start to the season. USC opened league play up two weeks ago with a rousing 17-6 decision over Georgia and then took on FCS foe Furman this past weekend, making light work of the Paladins, 38-19.
Gene Chizik's Tigers are also undefeated on the young season. After opening league play with a 17-14 win over Mississippi State, Auburn outlasted Clemson in a brawl last weekend, 27-24 in overtime.
This marks the first time these two teams have met when both were ranked in the top-25. Overall, this game is the ninth all-time meeting, with Auburn holding a 6-1-1 advantage. The Tigers have won four straight, including a 24-17 victory in the last meeting in Columbia in 2006.
The South Carolina offense has gotten a huge boost this year from freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore. The youngster has carried the ball 70 times over the first three games, for 333 yards and is responsible for five of USC's 10 offensive touchdowns. Lattimore has fueled the attack, but others have stepped up as well. In all, the Gamecocks are averaging an impressive 32.0 ppg with an obvious emphasis on the run thus far.
"You have to do what you do best to try and win the game," says Spurrier. "We're not as good throwing as we have been running, but we throw successfully at times. I shouldn't say that we're completely a running team ... We'll try to take care of the ball better when we are throwing and give ourselves the best chance without the big mistakes that we had last week.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes (.683) for 508 yards and two TDs. His top target has clearly been WR Alshon Jeffery (19 receptions, for 306 yards), although the 6-4 sophomore has yet to find the end zone.
Defensively, USC has been outstanding, limiting foes to a mere 12.7 ppg. The rush defense has been particularly stout, yielding a mere 59.7 ypg, on just 2.2 yards per carry. The pass defense has been much more generous (267.7 ypg), but the squad has countered that with 11 sacks and three INTs in the first three outings.
The top playmakers of note on the defensive side of the ball reside in the secondary in sophomore DBs DeVonte Holloman (team-high 20 tackles, one INT, one forced fumble) and Stephon Gilmore (13 tackles, one INT, one fumble recovery). Sophomore rush end Devin Taylor (11 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks) and junior tackle Travian Robertson (nine tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks) have created the most mayhem upfield.
Spurrier knows the key this week is to stop Auburn QB Cam Newton on the ground.
"He's a big guy, 6-6, 250 and runs a lot. Very good runner and passer. We have to stop the run first and get him throwing the ball. (We need to) hold onto him. He can shake an arm or hand tackle. You have to get a good grasp on a quarterback that's that big, strong and elusive. He's a good athlete back there. He may have as many rushing yards as their tailbacks, but he's a good runner and passer. We have to slow him down definitely."
The Tigers will present the toughest challenge for USC's defense to date, as Auburn has the ability to move the ball both on the ground and through the air. The rushing attack is generating a hardy 259.3 yards per game on 5.5 yards per carry, while the passing game is putting up 200.7 yards per outing.
Newton has had his hand in both phases of the game, throwing for 525 yards and seven TDs thus far, while averaging 103.0 yards rushing to pace the team as well. Tailbacks Onterio McCalebb (7.3 ypc) and Michael Dyer (5.4 ypc) give the team fresh legs throughout the game. Newton has thrown TD passes to five different players thus far, with 6-3 junior WR Darvin Adams (10 receptions, for 214 yards, two TDs) leading the charge.
The Auburn defense has had its ups and downs this season and the result is a team that is allowing a rather generous 21.3 ppg thus far. The unit has amassed 25 TFLs and eight sacks over the first three games, but a mere two forced turnovers simply isn't enough.
Senior middle linebacker Josh Bynes leads the squad with 23 tackles. He is followed closely by senior safety Aairon Savage (19 stops). Up front, junior tackle Nick Fairley (16 tackles, 7.0 TFLs, 4.0 sacks) has been a force in the middle, while senior end Antoine Carter (14 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) has done a nice job coming off the edge.
Chizik knows that USC will present a challenge for Auburn's defense.
"Without question. It is a very talented offense. They've got great height from all their receivers. They have two extremely effective quarterbacks. They're not afraid to run their quarterbacks. Coach (Steve) Spurrier does a great job coaching the quarterbacks in terms of throwing the ball. Their running game with their tailbacks is pretty much hitting on all cylinders now as well. Going back to the receiver question, they are very talented, very athletic and obviously have some great size to them."