SEC Preview: South Carolina at (5) Auburn

The South Carolina Gamecocks (4-3; 2-3 SEC) have an uphill battle the rest of the season. After a very disappointing start to the year, the Gamecocks went in to the bye-week at 3-3. Early polls and projections had the Gamecocks as a one-loss team, not one that would flounder around the middle of the pack in the SEC East.

After the bye-week, South Carolina welcomed the Furman Paladins to William-Bryce Stadium to take out their anger. The Gamecocks walloped the Paladins, 41-10. South Carolina was able to rest starters after getting a big lead at halftime. For the first time all season, a quarterback not named Dylan Thompson took a snap. Perry Orth was the first newcomer to see game action, going 0-2 and getting sacked for -13 yards. Connor Mitch was the next quarterback to get a chance, going 2-4 for 19 yards.

Mike Davis was the standout player for South Carolina last week, with 111 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Over the last four games, Davis has amassed 480 yards and six touchdowns. He has been a bright spot in a disappointing year for South Carolina, and is proving why he is surrounded by so much hype.

Dylan Thompson, though it gets lost in the teams record, has had a very productive season. He has thrown for 1835 yards and 15 touchdowns, and just six interceptions (three coming in one game, the meltdown against Kentucky).

This week, South Carolina faces one of their biggest challenges of the season. They travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face off against Gus Malzahn’s fifth-ranked Auburn Tigers. This will likely be South Carolina’s last chance to salvage their SEC season. A loss would send the Gamecocks to 2-4 in SEC play, and make it near impossible to win the East. Although it is a long shot, beating Auburn and having help from other teams could have South Carolina back in the hunt.

Auburn comes in to the game at 5-1 (2-1 SEC), with its lone loss coming to current number one Mississippi State. They have been one of the strongest teams in the country running the football, ranking 14 with 262 yards-per-game. That will not be something the Gamecocks can let happen if they hope to have a chance.

“It is whatever it’s going to be,” South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said on Auburn’s rushing attack. “We’ll use a bunch of guys up there and see if we can slow them down and stop them. They’ll obviously make some yards, but we beat Georgia. Georgia is actually number one in the conference running the ball and Auburn is probably two or three. You always have to have hope that good can happen like happened for us in the Georgia game.”

The Gamecocks have given up an SEC-high 15 rushing touchdowns this season and have come up with just 23 tackles for loss through seven games, putting South Carolina 125th in the nation in stops behind the line of scrimmage.

As has been the case all season, South Carolina’s struggling defense will make or break this game. If they can figure out a way to slow down the potent dual-threat ability of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, there will be a chance for the Gamecocks to notch their first win against Auburn since 1933. If not, things could get out of hand pretty fast.

Mike Davis has to get his touches. Establishing an early presence in the running game with a player of Davis’s ability will open the offense up, allowing Thompson to find his “fast four” of Nick Jones, Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper and Shaq Roland.

This will not be an easy task for the Gamecocks, entering a rowdy, hostile environment. They will try to sneak away with a huge SEC win, and a glimmer of hope for the rest of the season.

*Section Photo credit to Streeter Lecka, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Jeff Blake, USA Today Sports

 

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