The Auburn Tigers averaged 41.3 points in their first 25 victories of the Gus Malzahn era. But in the 26th win — arguably one of the most unlikely — the Tigers scored only 16 points and managed only 358 yards despite running a season-high — by 29 snaps — 92 offensive plays. Still, despite those offensive struggles, Auburn found a way to get it done, edging South Carolina 16–13 in Columbia for a precious SEC road win.
The Tigers, shockingly, won this game on defense. A unit that entered the weekend ranked 110th in the nation in total defense, 112th in rushing defense and 90th in scoring defense, somehow, some way found a way to slow down a South Carolina offense that features elite offensive talent in the form of tailback Marcus Lattimore and wideout Alshon Jeffery. The same Auburn defense that gave up 38 points and 448 total yards to a Utah State team that featured a true freshman quarterback limited South Carolina to a season-low 289 yards. The same Auburn defense that gave up 34 points to Mississippi State (which, by the way, has averaged 14 points since playing the Tigers) and 38 points to Clemson held South Carolina to its lowest total since a 20–7 loss to UConn in the 2009 Papajohns.com bowl.
Auburn’s plan of attack on the defensive end was to slow down Lattimore, who entered the weekend averaging 152.8 yards per game. That, however, is easier said than done — especially for a defense that was giving up 226.5 yards per game on the ground.
“I knew for all intents and purposes we had to stop 21 (Marcus Lattimore) running it, or it would be hard to win,” head coach Gene Chizik said after the game.
Mission — somehow — accomplished.
Lattimore was held to season lows of 17 carries and 66 yards. As a whole, the South Carolina offense struggled to sustain drives all game long. The Gamecocks only had one drive that went for more than 50 yards and only one drive that lasted more than five plays.
Clearly, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier envisioned his team having more success.
“(Auburn) hadn’t been playing very well defensively,” Spurrier said. “We made them look like about the best defense in the league most of the night. I think we had two long balls and that was about it. We got nothing consistently.”
South Carolina will have an opportunity to get back in the win column next week when struggling Kentucky visits Columbia, while Auburn braces for a three-game gauntlet that features trips to Arkansas and LSU sandwiched around a home game vs. Florida.
Can Chizik and the Tigers keep the magic going?
AROUND THE SEC
• Vic Ballard only had eight carries in Mississippi State’s 24–10 loss at Georgia, his fewest against an FBS opponent since his Week 2 last season vs. Auburn.
• LSU only gave up 155 yards of offense to Kentucky, and almost half of those (70) came on a fourth quarter drive with the Tigers holding a 35–0 lead.
• Consider this: Alabama leads the nation in scoring defense (8.4 ppg) and has already played Florida, Arkansas and Penn State.
• Kentucky (139.4 ypg) and Vanderbilt (124.3 ypg) combined are averaging 263.2 passing yards per game — a total that would rank third in the SEC behind Arkansas and Tennessee.
• Stephen Garcia has now thrown 50 interceptions in his South Carolina career.
• Tennessee continues to lead the SEC in third down conversions at 62.1 percent. Next on the list is LSU at 46.5 percent. The Vols were 10th in the league last year at 36.5 percent.
• Ole Miss should get Fresno State on the schedule every year. Over the last two years, the Rebs are 5–10 vs. FBS opponents, with two of the wins coming against Fresno State. Last year, Ole Miss scored a season-high 55 points vs. the Bulldogs (averaged 26.4 vs. all other FBS team). Last Saturday, Ole Miss broke out with 38 points vs. FSU after averaging 11.0 points in three previous games vs. FBS competition.
Much has been made of the major losses from the championship roster of the 2010 Auburn Tigers. With several dozen seniors and a half dozen more lost through attrition, approximately forty percent of the players that brought home the crystal ball from Arizona are gone.
Athlon hands out some hardware for the opening weekend of college football
The first week of college football action is complete in the SEC. Here is our look at the week that was.
Team of the Week — LSU
The Tigers outclassed Oregon in the marquee game of the opening week of the college football season. The LSU run defense was dominant, holding Oregon to 95 yards on 28 carries. The Ducks did pass for 240 yards, but Darron Thomas averaged only 4.4 yards on his 54 attempts — a number that LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis would take every single week. LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee didn’t do much — 98 yards passing with one TD — but he didn’t make many mistakes, either. The Tigers’ offense was powered by tailbacks Spencer Ware (99 yards on 26 carries) and Michael Ford (96 yards on 14 carries).
Disappointment of the Week — Auburn
Auburn deserves credit for keeping its focus and rallying for 14 points in the final three minutes of its 42–38 win over Utah State, but there were far more negatives than positives. Led by a true freshman at quarterback, Utah State rolled up 448 yards of offense and did not turn the ball over once. And on the other side of the ball, Auburn managed only 364 yards against an Aggie defense that allowed 428.8 yards per game in 2010. It’s not necessarily time to panic, but it’s clear — as we all knew heading into the season — that the ’11 Tigers are a work in progress.
Player of the Week — Vick Ballard, Mississippi State
All he does is score touchdowns. After leading SEC running backs with 19 rushing scores last season, Ballard reached the end zone three times on only 10 carries in Mississippi State’s 59–14 win at Memphis. The senior leads the league in rushing after one week, with 166 yards on a gaudy 16.6-yard average.
Freshman of the Week — Trey Depriest, Alabama
It was a relatively quiet week for freshmen in the SEC, but Alabama’s Trey Depriest played very well in his collegiate debut. The true freshman from Springfield, Ohio, led the Tide with 10 total tackles and added one quarterback hurry.
Around the SEC
• Nine of the league’s 12 teams played more than one quarterback in the opening week. Some were by design (Alabama, South Carolina and Ole Miss) while most the of the others were due to the lopsided scores. Some of the notable relievers were Arkansas’ Brandon Mitchell, who completed 10-of-11 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers, who threw a 30-yard touchdown on his first pass attempt of his FBS career.
• Kentucky had only 190 yards of total offense in its 14–3 win over Western Kentucky, with 58 coming on a late scramble by quarterback Morgan Newton.
• Ole Miss’ defensive effort against BYU looks pretty good on paper — the Cougars scored only one offensive touchdown and had a total of 316 yards — but the Rebels struggled to get off the field in the second half. BYU’s two drives in the third quarter went for 67 yards and 59 yards and the first drive of the fourth quarter went for 72 yards and a touchdown.
• Utah State had five drives of 65 yards or longer against Auburn. Four of Auburn’s six second-half drives went for 43 yards or more.
• Alabama’s defensive effort against Kent State — 90 yards allowed — is even more impressive if you consider that the Golden Flashes ran 70 plays from scrimmage. The Crimson Tide allowed an average 1.29 yards per play, by far the best in the nation in the opening week.
• There were a couple positives for Georgia in its 35–21 loss to Boise State. Tight end Orson Charles caught six passes for 109 yards, and true freshman wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell caught three passes for 64 yards and had one carry for 18 yards.
• Bruce Ellington, the starting point guard for South Carolina’s basketball team, had the first two carries of his Gamecock career, running for a total of 18 yards in USC’s 56–37 win over East Carolina. Ellington did not play football for South Carolina last fall.
• Vanderbilt redshirt freshman wide receiver Chris Boyd became the first Commodore to catch two touchdown passes in the same game since D.J. Moore scored twice against Kentucky in November 2008. Moore, an All-SEC cornerback, played sparingly as a wide receiver late in the ’08 season.
• LSU did not play a game against a Pac-10 opponent from 1982-2003 but has played five since. The Tigers have defeated Oregon State (2004), Arizona State (’05), Arizona (’06), Washington (’09) and Oregon (’11) over the past seven-plus seasons.