No. 12 South Carolina Gamecocks (3-0, 2-1 ATS) at No. 17 Auburn Tigers (3-0, 1-2 ATS), Week Four College Football, Saturday September 25th, 7:45PM Eastern Jordan-Hare Stadium Auburn, A.L
By Jay Horne, Professional Sports Handicapper of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: USC +2.5/Aub -2.5
Over/Under Total: OFF
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The folks at Jordan-Hare Stadium did not get disappointed last week when ESPN Gameday rolled into town in a highly advertised meeting with the Clemson Tigers. Not only did Auburn get some great exposure, but the Tigers young team rallied from behind to win perhaps one of the more exciting games of the season. Auburn eclipsed Clemson 27-24 in overtime to remain undefeated on the season. The Tigers pulled out a long hard fought victory, but the brutal schedule of the SEC is unforgiving.
Just as Auburn fans catch their breath, in marches Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks who are sporting the number 13 ranking in the country. South Carolina and Auburn are both hopefuls to make runs at their divisions in the SEC putting even more on the line when the two collide at Jordan-Hare this Saturday night. One loss puts a huge damper on either team’s possibility of reaching Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Sure it’s early in the season, but that is exactly the importance of this exciting match-up.
The Gamecocks knocked off Georgia in impressive fashion 17-6 just two weeks ago, but played rather sloppy against inner state FCS foe in Furman last week. Furman definitely did not let the Gamecocks get to any type of “comfortable” lead, but South Carolina still managed to pull out a 38-19 victory. In fact if not for a late pick 6 by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the game could have gotten much too close for comfort. However, the Gamecocks pulled out the win and now get the chance to really make some noise in the SEC. If the Gamecocks can get past Auburn, they will likely grab a top 10 ranking and get to host top ranked Alabama after their bye week at home at Williams-Brice Stadium. Don’t think that is not on the minds of Gamecock nation.
Still, South Carolina must handle a solid Auburn bunch and wins on the road in the SEC are not easy to come by. The Gamecocks offense has found a solid rushing attack this season behind freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore had a “coming out” party against Georgia racking up 182 yards mostly after contact and the star tailback posted another 97 yards on 19 carries against last week against Furman. Lattimore has all the ingredients to be possibly the top tailback in the SEC, but it really comes down to the South Carolina offensive line. The Gamecocks offensive line has been under scrutiny the past few seasons after failing to have any type of running game and surrendering a ton of sacks. While the offensive line has gotten better, they are still inconsistent which is a scary attribute when you going up against a solid SEC defense as in Auburn.
However if the Gamecocks offensive line plays well, they can beat you in many ways. QB Stephen Garcia has suffered with some decision making problems, but has the arm to make all the throws on the field. Garcia can also run the ball which the Gamecocks will do very often with fake handoffs with Lattimore. If Garcia gets time to throw the ball, both wide receivers in the Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley make huge targets on the outside. Both big wide outs can make plays and that is why the Gamecocks will make attempts to throw the ball down the field even if the focus is running the football.
On the Tigers side of the field, everything starts at the quarterback position. QB Cameron Newton tends to drop back and run the ball more often than throw the football. Newton is a good running quarterback, but he also has a better arm than most dual threat quarterbacks. Newton completed 7 of 14 passing for 202 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 picks last week. Although, one of those touchdowns was a 78 yard bomb to Terrell Zachery that was the go-ahead score over Clemson. Not only did that play really turn the game around, but it proved that pass defenses still have to respect Newton’s arm. WR Darvin Adams finally had a breakout game last week the Tigers have been waiting for. After being very quiet in the opening two games, Adams caught 5 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Keep an eye on Adams if the Tigers have to go to the air.
Still, do not expect Auburn to keep the ball in the air too often. The Tigers tend to keep the ball on the ground with Newton and running back Onterio McCalebb. McCalebb is a solid runner that posted 8.1 yards per carry against the Tigers and will get his share of carries again this weekend. One interesting statistic that does come into play is the South Carolina defense. While both teams are pretty similar on paper, the Gamecocks run defense has not allowed over 67 yards rushing in a single game this season. The Gamecocks have not played any overpowering running games, but they still held Georgia to just 61 yards rushing as well. Considering the running attack is the area Auburn generates most of their yards, they may have to find some extra ways to move the ball if South Carolina’s run defense lives up to the numbers.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m surprised Auburn is giving away points here. They are in a let down situation after last week’s tough battle with Clemson. Auburn has had two wins by a field goal over two very average teams. I think South Carolina is the better team on both sides of the ball and believe this is a easy cover if there is such a thing. I’ll take the University of South Carolina here and see you at the cashier’s window.