3 advantages South Carolina has over Auburn
This isn’t the kind of matchup that we see very often. In fact, Auburn and South Carolina haven’t met since 2014, a 42-35 Auburn victory when coach Gus Malzahn was in his 2nd season, and the Gamecocks were led by Steve Spurrier.
Both sides are very familiar for coach Will Muschamp, who has had 3 stops at Auburn and knows the DNA of each program.
Auburn is coming off the narrow escape against Arkansas, while South Carolina is feeling good for the first time this season following the win at Vanderbilt.
“Winning helps,” Muschamp said at his Tuesday press conference. “It makes the food taste a little better. Your wife likes you more, your girlfriend, if you have one. It certainly gives you a better outlook on things.”
The Gamecocks are looking for rare success against the Tigers. Auburn owns a 10-1-1 all-time record in the series, including 8 straight wins. South Carolina’s lone win came in 1933.
Here are 3 advantages South Carolina has over Auburn:
Auburn busted out with a huge game running the ball against Arkansas, as the Tigers rang up 41 carries for 259 yards and a touchdown. But the first 2 weeks, against Kentucky and Georgia, they combined for 130 yards. Granted, South Carolina doesn’t have quite the Georgia defense, but it’s certainly better than the Arkansas showing. Against Tennessee, Florida and Vanderbilt, South Carolina has allowed just 96 yards per game. What’s more, Muschamp has the added emphasis of motivation this week after he said the defensive line struggled against Vanderbilt.
“Disappointed in the run game,” Muschamp said. “We gave up 3.75 a carry, four big-play runs. I thought we played high and soft. We didn’t disengage. We didn’t get off blocks. We better get that corrected.”
Asked specifically about the defensive tackles, Muschamp was direct.
“We need to play better,” Muschamp said, “across the board, not just there. At the end positions as well.”
DL Keir Thomas missed the Vanderbilt game for undisclosed reasons, and is expected back this week. There’s already a spotlight on the likes of Zacch Pickens, Jordan Burch and Tonka Hemingway because they were high-profile recruits. They have delivered some, but the Gamecocks need more.
Muschamp has to be happy about the 3rd-down defense; South Carolina leads the SEC by a wide margin. The Gamecocks have only allowed 6 conversions on 31 attempts, a 19.35% clip, which is considerably better than even Georgia at 28.26%.
“They are very aggressive up front,” Malzahn said. “They put the pressure on the quarterback and make him uncomfortable. They do a good job with their coverage. They don’t give you easy throws and you have to earn it. If you look at their defense they are 18th in the country and third in the league. What stands out to me is their third down defense. They play tight coverage.”
Auburn, meanwhile is 8th in the SEC in 3rd-down conversions, as the Tigers are succeeding at a 40% clip.
South Carolina’s DBs vs. Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams
The Florida offense is a difficult variable to consider in this kind of matchup, because the Gators pose such a matchup problem. But the Gamecocks did have a sub-par tackling effort in Gainesville. Even with that, the Gamecocks are 3rd in the SEC in pass defense. After a hot start against Kentucky, the Tigers have sputtered against Georgia and Arkansas, with less than 200 yards passing and just 1 touchdown combined.
This is the type of game for Israel Mukuamu and Jaycee Horn to live up to their hype. Mukuamu has missed time against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and he’s battled a groin injury, though it was unclear why he sat out for much of the Vanderbilt game. He did make a one-handed interception against Florida, and Cam Smith has an interception. Smith and John Dixon have played well.
On a “Carolina Calls” radio show, Muschamp said Smith needed to step up in order for the defense to reach the next level. Smith has worked extra practice reps on Sunday, something Muschamp has noticed.
“Other than the quarterback position, on our defense, the cornerback is probably the hardest to play,” Muschamp said Tuesday at his press conference. “You’re going to be caught in a lot of 1-on-1 situations and either you make the play, or you don’t make the play. Might be some hand contact down the field, a flag may be thrown. … It’s a very difficult position to play, but it’s also a position that you need to learn from your mistakes and I think Cam has, and then continue to work at your craft, continue to come out to practice with the right mentality to improve and get better. That’s what Cam’s done.”
Schwartz and Williams have combined for just 11 catches a game and just 3 total touchdowns. The Auburn offense needs more from them to really get going, especially as defenses key on Tank Bigsby.