No. 2 Auburn Tigers (12-0, 8-4 ATS) vs. No. 18 South Carolina Gamecocks (9-3, 7-5 ATS), Week 14 College Football, Saturday December 4th, 4:00PM Georgia Dome Atlanta, G.A.
By Jay Horne, Professional Sports Handicapper of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: Aub -5.5/USC +5.5
Over/Under Total: OFF
Over the past few years, the SEC has staked its claims as the nation’s strongest football conference. After all, the last 4 conference champions have gone on to win 4 straight National Championships. This year the Auburn Tigers are in the driver seat to try and take down a 5th straight National Championship. The Tigers are a perfect 12-0 on the season and are one win away from playing in the National Championship Game. However, Auburn will have to go through Steve Spurrier’s no. 18 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks inside the Georgia Dome this Saturday to keep their dream season alive. Of course the Gamecocks are playing the underdog role, but there is no more experienced coach at winning SEC Championships than Steve Spurrier and it will be interesting to see if the Ole Ball Coach has any tricks up his sleeve.
Interestingly enough this will be the second meeting between the two schools this season. Auburn came from behind to beat the Gamecocks 35-27 in late September. That loss is one that has bothered the Gamecocks all year. South Carolina felt they gave the game away and in all respect they did. The Gamecocks led by as much as 20-7 in that game before committing 4 turnovers in the 4th quarter alone which led to their heartbreaking loss. South Carolina has been itching to get their chance to redeem their selves and they will get that chance this Saturday when they try to earn their first SEC Championship in school history.
However, the Tigers may be a better team than South Carolina saw earlier this season as well. QB Cam Newton did not really get going into the 2nd month of the college football season. Newton has exploded into a running and throwing force that has been unstoppable for opposing defenses. Newton has thrown for 2,254 yards while leading the SEC on the ground with 1,336 yards rushing. The Tigers star quarterback has combined for 42 touchdowns and likely leads all Heisman Trophy ballots at this time. Newton and the Tigers ran for 334 yards against South Carolina earlier this season. The Gamecocks defense simply did not have an answer for the Auburn rushing attack so it will be interesting to see if things are perhaps different during round 2 inside the Georgia Dome.
Even with that horrific performance against the Auburn rushing attack earlier this season, the Gamecocks bounced back to put up a very solid season on defense against the run. The Gamecocks rank 5th nationally against the run allowing just 93 yards per game. The defensive front has been outstanding stopping the run and they also rank 3rd in sacks averaging 3.25 per game. If the Gamecocks defense shows up unlike they did last September, they could really make it difficult on the Auburn rushing attack to move the football. The South Carolina secondary has been very vulnerable against the pass this season which will be a concern going into this game. However, Newton is most effective as a passer once he gets the ground game rolling. The Gamecocks were getting beat so bad by the run in the last meeting against Auburn the South Carolina secondary gave up some big plays in effort to support the run defense. That is a scenario that could play out once again if Auburn can establish dominance on the ground so it is critical that the Gamecocks defense plays well up front.
Newton along with running backs Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer make up an elusive ground force. All 3 rushers are averaging over 6 yards per carry and have combined for 32 rushing touchdowns. McCalebb and Dyer have combined for over 1,600 yards this season. Auburn runs an option style read offense that is just so difficult to defense with their talent in the backfield. However, the Tigers can also hit big plays in the passing game. Normally defenses put some much focus on stopping the run that it can open up holes in the opponents secondary.
Auburn stormed back from a 24-0 deficit to Alabama last week primarily through big plays in the passing game. Newton threw touchdown passes of 37, 70, and another 7 yard score. Wide outs Terrell Zachery and Darvin Adams are under rated playmakers. Zachery caught the 70 yards touchdown pass last week that really changed the momentum of the game. Considering how bad South Carolina has struggled against the pass this season, I expect Auburn to have more similar big play opportunities this Saturday. The question is will the Tigers be able to convert those opportunities into points?
Another thing to note in this game is that Auburn will not be the only dangerous offense in this ball game. South Carolina has averaged 34 points per game on average this season. The Gamecocks posted 35 and 36 points against the likes of Florida and Alabama defenses this year. Remember the Gamecocks handed Alabama their first loss of the season when they were ranked no. 1 earlier this year so they know how to win the big games. The offense is led by freshman sensation running back Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore is a bigger back that can break a lot of tackles. On the season, Lattimore has rushed for 1,114 yards which is 2nd in the SEC behind Newton. Lattimore is actually just one rushing touchdown shy of breaking a new record for a freshman in the SEC at 19. Therefore, the Auburn defense must focus on slowing down the Gamecocks star tailback and prevent South Carolina from controlling the football.
South Carolina also has much more talent outside of Lattimore. Last week, Clemson sold out on stopping the run by loading as many as 8 guys in the box to stop Lattimore. When that happened, it opened up a lot of opportunities for QB Stephen Garcia and WR Alshon Jeffery. Garcia has been solid all season completing 66% for 2,646 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 9 picks. Garcia has one of the best wide outs in all of college football in Jeffery who is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award which is given to the nation’s top wide receiver each year. Last week Jeffery capitalized off of Clemson’s focus against the run by catching 5 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown which resulted in a South Carolina cakewalk against in-state rival Clemson 29-7. Jeffery leads the SEC with 1,351 yards this season and 8 touchdowns. Earlier this year the Auburn defense played well against the run, but South Carolina was able to move the football through the air. I believe that Garcia and Jeffery will need to have another big game to set that type of tone early again. If that happens, it will possibly open up more room on the ground for the freshman Lattimore which could make things really interesting if the Gamecocks offense gets rolling.
Jay’s pick to cover the point spread: I really think that South Carolina has a lot to prove in this game not to mention they are playing their best football of the season. The loss to Auburn earlier this year will fuel their motivation and this is the game the Gamecocks have been waiting for since Coach Spurrier arrived in Columbia. The experts said that winning an SEC Championship could not be done at South Carolina because they could not contend with the Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida teams. Well, South Carolina has beaten all 3 of those schools this season along with Alabama and I believe that they will pull off the upset this Saturday. It’s tough to beat a team twice in the same year especially one that is coached by Steve Spurrier. I also like the fact that Auburn is in a prime let down spot. I’m going with South Carolina and the upset.