This Saturday, South Carolina is on the road against the number five team in the country, so what are the Gamecocks keys against Auburn? When the season ended last year, many people looked at this game as the possible early SEC championship preview, or possibly even a playoff level game. Auburn had made it to the Bowl Championship Game and the Gamecocks had just finished with a huge Capital One victory. Both teams were predicted to be at the top of the country on October 25th.
This game will not have all those same implications, but you still could say this game is a big deal. The Gamecocks at 4-3 and 2-3 in the SEC are fighting to regain that respect they finished last season with, and hopes for a strong finish to the season and go to a great bowl game. Auburn is 5-1 and 5th in the country, with hopes of returning to the SEC Championship game and making it to the playoffs. This game is critical to their season’s success, and they know it.
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The Gamecocks are 17.5 point underdogs to Auburn, who had their first loss against Mississippi State two weeks ago but had a bye week this past week to recover and prepare. This is only the second game of the season the Gamecocks have not been favored to win. So what are going to be the keys for South Carolina this week in a very electric road atmosphere?
First, the Gamecocks have to start strong. This has been an Achilles heel for South Carolina all season, with game after game starting off as a struggle. Whether it is failure to move the offense, or give up the big plays, opponents have been able to come out of the first quarter feeling very good. This is definitely not a position the Gamecocks can allow Auburn to be in, or this game could be over before it starts. After playing Furman, the players will have a lot more energy and it will be up to the coaches to help them channel that energy in the right places. Steve Spurrier will need to set the offense up for success to ensure they gain confidence moving the ball early. The defense will need to ensure they aren’t out of position against Nick Marshall or he will burn them on the ground and in the air.
Second, the defense will need to focus on the run and trust the corners and safeties in coverage. Auburn can definitely run the ball, and the Gamecocks will have to stop that if they have a chance to win. That will mean not dropping extra guys in coverage, and challenging the young backs to execute their roles in coverage. Sure many of these guys are freshman, but playing safe isn’t going to win this game. Lorenzo Ward has put the linebackers in a position to stop the run or put pressure on Marshall if he does try to throw. Maybe if the defensive backs know they’re on their own, and no one in coming back to help them, they’ll step up and play the way Ward knows they can.
Third, the offensive line has to come together as a group and have a complete game. Last week, the run blocking was superb, and the Gamecocks exploited it by rushing for almost 300 yards. However, they gave up four sacks, and the defense was constantly pressuring the quarterbacks. Dylan Thompson has been great most of the season, except when he is under pressure, and he cannot afford any turnovers here. Other games, the protection has been better, but there was no room to run. The talent is definitely there, so if the lineman can work together and play solid to give the Gamecocks a chance to move the ball down the field, they have a good chance to keep up. Once the offense is in the redzone, they are the third best in the country, only missing on one scoring opportunity all year.
This game will be a tough one for South Carolina, but it’s certainly possible for them to come away with a win. Auburn is a strong team, with great coaches, but the Gamecocks have a ton of talent and if that group plays to their potential there could be an upset Saturday night.