Well it wasn't pretty, and we openly mocked the football gods by wasting multiple opportunities to score, but our much maligned defense came to play and we escaped Wiliams Bryce stadium with what Coach Chizik called a "landmark win" over #10 South Carolina. Our Auburn Tigers who have faced enormous criticism from within and without, played it the old fashioned way, winning 16-13 with defense, special teams and field position.
This morning the Gamecocks are being called pretenders and overrated by the same pundits who expected an easy victory for them against our Tigers. The lethal trio of Garcia, Jeffery and Lattimore, that was suppose to eviscerate an undermanned and inexperienced Auburn D, found itself held in check all game and unable to come through with the game on the line.
Chizik, Roof and Co. came up with a winning strategy of well timed blitzes and pressure to neutralize Marcus Lattimore and pin the Gamecock offensive hopes on Stephen Garcia. That strategy proved fruitful as Garcia was not up to the task.
Despite, giving up a long touchdown pass to Jeffrey towards the end of the 1st Qtr, Tsharvan Bell, Neiko Thorpe and the Tiger secondary limited Jeffrey's touches to 30+ yards the rest of the day. Ends Lemonier, Owens, Eguae, and Sanders put pressure, and hands, on Garcia enough to keep him from getting into a groove and overcoming two interceptions and multiple overthrows.
The intensity and toughness that seemed to be missing from the Auburn D ll year, suddenly materialized in Columbia and limited one of the most talented offenses in the SEC to less than 300 yards.
While its possible USC overlooked Auburn, or just had a bad day, you can't discount the work Chizik, Roof and Malzahn put into formulating a strategy that would allow Auburn to pull off the upset. The plan of course was to suffocate Lattimore and limit USC's time of possession. This strategy allowed Auburn to flip the script of previous weeks where opposing offenses pummeled our D into submission by running 80+ plays, while we struggled to run 50.
Yesterday's stategy worked to perfection as USC only ran 54 plays, 90% of which occurred on their side of the field. Conversely we ran the ball with great success and spent the better part of the game mounting scoring threats against the Gamecock D. Dyer pounded away at the USC line with 41 carries, 16 of which came after an ankle injury, and showed why he was the marquis running back in the SEC, not Lattimore.
Watching the game you had the feeling that Auburn was handily winning the game, yet they trailed with just minutes to play becasue they failed to capitlize on scoring opportunities earlier in the game due to interceptions thrown by Trotter (2), CJ Uzomah, and DB Ryan White (???!!!).
Regarless of how you felt about the play calling that led to the interceptions, or the willingness to punt at the edge of field goal territory, you had to respect the fact that the staff didn't panic and get away from the game plan to grind away with the running game. I was very critical of the trick plays that got intercepted, but I'll give Chizk credit, he wasn't sitting back waiting for USC to lose the game.
Eventually the risky playcalling bore fruit and Trotter found Lutznekirchen for the winning TD. My biggest gripe on the day was our repeated trips into field goal territory that were thwarted by sacks, the afore mentioned ints, or just unwillingness to try a 50 yard + field goal with a kicker who can boot the ball through the uprights on kickoffs. The way the game was unfolding, another filed goal or two would have been invaluable. By my count there were five opportunites to put points on the board that we missed out on, or didn't even attempt.
My question is why are we putting the leg irons on Cody Parkey? Points or not, that strategy kept USC pinned deep in its own territory and put constant pressure on Garcia and the USC offense that had a big impact on the success of the defense.
Of course with the good comes the bad. Despite the succes that Dyer and McCalebb had running the ball, Barrett Trotter had an equal amount of difficulty establishing the passing game. Trotter picked up where he left off last week, making poor decisions with the ball, and looking uncomfortable on his throws by muscling up on them instead of using his normal throwing motion.
You can see Trotter feeling the weight of responsibility for the Auburn offense and its clear he isn't comfortable with it. Trotter hung in there though, and eventually made the play of the game to Lutzie with a defender all over him. On the play, he didn't have time to think about the throw, he just had to do it ,and it was perfect. Hopefully he will remember that , and its success, and he will fight that urge to "overthrow".
For as much as we all see the potential in Kiehl Frazier, its clear the coaching staff isn't ready to entrust the game to him or let him throw the ball. Something tells me though, that we will see them take the brakes off him in the weeks to come....especially if Trotter continues to struggle with his throws.
The takeaway from yesterday that we are all relieved by, is that the defense showed great improvement and stifled a potent offense in a very hostile environment. As Nosa Egue commented about the defensive turnaround, "I wouldn't say it gets personal," Eguae said Saturday night, "but when you work 365 days a year and somebody tells you what you can't do, you want to prove them wrong." They are listening to the criticism and working like Tigers to get better.
With all the mistakes and turnovers that we had in the game its impressive that we didn't fold but instead kept our composure and eventually won the game under very difficult circumstances.
The experience garnered yesterday will pay dividends down the road (pun intended) as our young men are learning what it takes to win. Perhaps more importantly, the coaches are learning who to count on, and what buttons to push, and when. Obviously our secondary can hold up when we blitz, so I think we will be seeing more of that in the weeks to come.
So, despite the ugliness of the game, and the fact that the game should have been well in hand prior to that last drive, its very heartening to see how our Tigers responded in a must win game. That above all else should give us hope for the rest of the season and build for a championship run next year.....IF we can't get it done this year!!