(picture via cdn2.sbnation.com)
On Saturday, the #10 South Carolina Gamecocks (4-0) will face defending national champion Auburn (3-1) in a rematch of the 2010 SEC Championship Game (won by the Tigers, 56-17).
The Gamecocks haven't beaten Auburn since 1933. Since joining the SEC in 1992, South Carolina has at least one win against every SEC team... except Auburn. That is expected to change Saturday, however, as Steve Spurrier's club is favored by double-digits. Why are they so highly favored? Because it's in Columbia, Auburn has by far the worst defense in school history, the Tigers are really young at most positions and the Gamecocks have a little diddy at running back named Marcus Lattimore.
South Carolina hasn't exactly been impressive, but when you look at their schedule, you can't blame them. In all four wins, they beat a dangerous underdog. ECU? Upset alert. Georgia? Upset alert. Navy? Potential for an upset. Vanderbilt? They were 3-0 going in. The Gamecocks have done a good job surviving an underrated slate of early-season showdowns, and they have big advantages across the board over Auburn.
What does Auburn have to do to pull off a big road upset? What does South Carolina need to do to get to 5-0 and record their second win over the Tigers in school history?
(More after the jump)
AUBURN'S KEYS TO THE GAME:
Run Mike Dyer: In the first meeting between the teams in 2010, Dyer recorded his first 100-yard game as an Auburn Tiger. However, this Gamecock defense is improved, as the defensive line is anchored by touchdown machine (yes, really) Melvin Ingram and freshman Jadaveon Clowney. Auburn has a great running back, but this year, he hasn't gotten nearly enough touches. I'm not sure if he's just not durable or if he's not healthy, but when he's gotten the green light this year, he's usually been the best player on the field. If Dyer has fewer than 15 carries in this game, this game will be over before you can say, "second loss."
Blitz the QB: Auburn has rarely blitzed this year, and Auburn fans are extremely aggravated by this. Auburn has one sack this year. The defensive line can't get pressure without some help from the linebackers. The Tigers don't have the luxury of a dominant defensive line this year. It's time for Chizik and Roof to dial some blitzes. You have got to get pressure on Garcia. He's notoriously inconsistent, but if he doesn't feel pressure, he will have his best game since he engineered an upset of Alabama last year.
Load the box to stop the run: This could be included with the last key. In order to blitz Garcia, you've got to insure that Lattimore is a nonfactor so that the Gamecocks will have to pass. The Tigers must be sure to give South Carolina little room to run. If this is done successfully, it'll be on Garcia to move the ball.
SOUTH CAROLINA'S KEYS TO THE GAME:
Use home-field advantage: Williams-Brice Stadium is, like many SEC stadiums, a tough venue for visiting teams. Auburn has an extremely young squad, so the crowd could get inside these players' heads. In college football, home-field advantage is extremely important.
Don't panic: If the Gamecocks struggle early in the game, the last thing they should do is panic. Defensively, Auburn has allowed one first down all year on opponents' opening drives. If the Gamecocks go three-and-out a few times early in the game, they can't panic. Clemson went three-and-out their first two drives against Auburn this year, but by the end of the game, they had rolled up 38 points and 624 yards of offense on the reigning champs. If South Carolina falls behind early, they can't lose their composure. They need to just weather the storm.
Utilize Stephen Garcia: Garcia and Connor Shaw have been on a merry-go-round for a while now at QB, but Garcia will likely get the nod against the Tigers. He threw four interceptions against Vanderbilt (the Commodores actually lead the nation in interceptions with 14), so he's looking to rebound from that performance. Odds are that the defense of AU will key on Lattimore, so early on, they should let Garcia air it out, gain some confidence and loosen up Auburn's defense.
PREDICTION: South Carolina 34, Auburn 17
The Tigers may put up some points in the first half, but by the second half, Auburn's defense will get torched by Garcia, Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey. Auburn may show signs of improvement in certain areas, but the Gamecocks have too much on both sides of the ball for the Tigers. Unless Auburn's special teams turn in an A+ performance, I can't see Big Blue pulling this one out.