By Mitch Light
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.