Tigers win the SEC title!
War Eagle, everybody! It's time now for the much belated Acid Reign report on the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers survived a mistake-filled second quarter to pull away from the South Carolina Gamecocks, 56-17. In the festive party atmosphere of the Georgia Dome, it was easy to leave with the impression that Auburn thoroughly dominated the opposition. Watching the tape revealed that this was a closer game than the score indicated. Ultimately, what did the Gamecocks in was an inability to stop big plays in the passing game.
The much maligned Tiger defense played perhaps their most complete game of the season in Atlanta. It was a tall order to defend a potent, Steve Spurrier-coached offense in a high-stakes game, but the Tigers managed to slow Carolina to a pedestrian 349 total yards. It wasn't a great performance by any means, but the Tiger defense made the Gamecocks work for everything they got. The longest pass play of the day against Auburn was only 26 yards. The Carolina running game had a long play of 36 yards, but that was a late scramble by reserve quarterback Connor Shaw against Auburn's backups. SEC Freshman of the year Marcus Lattimore was held to 85 rushing yards. The Tigers also came up with two back breaking interceptions off Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia. The first one was immediately after Cam Newton had fumbled in Auburn's end of the field. South Carolina came up empty, as Darren Bates made a diving pick to keep the Gamecocks off the board. The killer was when T'Sharvan Bell snagged an ill-advised screen attempt in the 3rd quarter, and ran it back for an easy score. Craig Stevens blew through the middle untouched, driving Garcia backwards. Bell easily snared the panicked throw, and staked Auburn to an insurmountable 42-14 lead. Carolina would be one-dimensional for the rest of the game.
Both teams did a good job in special teams coverage, limiting opponent returns. Auburn was ten yards better kicking off, and South Carolina was 14 yards better punting. There weren't many punts in this offensive showing. Auburn punted only once (a short one, of course), and South Carolina punted three times. Carolina's Spencer Lanning was probably the special teams player of the game, averaging 50 yards per punt, and landing two of three inside the Auburn 20 yard line. You'd think that kickers would have it easy in a domed stadium with no wind, but neither kicker did well kicking field goals. Wes Byrum missed his only attempt, a 36-yarder. Lanning missed from 51 and 42 yards, before finally hitting from 33 when the game was out of hand.
Aside from a fairly inconsistent second quarter, the Auburn offense dominated. The Tigers gained 8.3 yards per play, and hit on numerous pass plays longer than 30 yards. This allowed the Tigers to build an early lead, and make the Gamecocks play from behind for most of the ballgame. While it was not a banner day running the ball, the Tigers still ground out 5.7 yards per carry. South Carolina loaded the box, and dared the Auburn running game to beat them. As a result, Tiger receiver Darvin Adams had a career first half, racking up 7 catches for 217 yards.
Cameron Newton had a monster day. He accounted for six touchdowns, four of them through the air. He averaged 5.2 yards per rush, and ran over Carolina defenders for two scores. Newton completed 60.7 percent of his passes, for 11.9 yards per attempt. Newton had no interceptions, and lost one fumble.
Unit Grades, after the jump!
Defensive Line: B. The line had a decent, but not great day. Carolina had a good plan to get the ball outside, and Auburn had difficulty containing it on the ends. The Tigers were solid in the middle, and prevented Marcus Lattimore from getting a first-down-chewing performance going. There was pressure on Garcia from Nick Fairley and Nosa Eguae, but it was aided by a great blitz package that coordinator Ted Roof utilized.
Linebackers: B+. I counted off for a few blown coverages on Gamecock secondary receivers Patrick DiMarco and Marcus Lattimore, but this unit did a great job on the blitz, and had a decent day slowing down the Gamecock rushing attack. After being benched in the Iron Bowl, Darren Bates returned to lead the linebackers with 6 tackles and an interception. A special shout-out goes to Craig Stevens for a panic-inducing quarterback hurry on Stephen Garcia that led to a pick-six!
Secondary: A-. Some may question this grade on a day where the opponent completed 60 percent of their passes, but the Tigers secondary did a great job of not giving up the big play, and tackling after the catch. The longest catch by a wide receiver on the day was only 18 yards. Ace Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery managed only 4 catches for 36 yards. The Auburn safeties had their best games of the year, effectively taking the post pattern away from the Gamecocks and coming up and giving good support on the underneath stuff. The coverage strategy was similar to the first game against Carolina, to rotate corners on Jeffery. The difference this time was safety play over the top. These guys have come a long way!
Punting: C. Ryan Shoemaker had one short 36 yard effort that was fair-caught.
Punt Returns: B. There were no big returns, but Darvin Adams made the correct decisions. Adams fair caught twice, to keep the ball from rolling inside the ten yard line, and he did have one ten yard return. Believe it or not, that was one of the longest returns of the year.
Kick Returns: C. South Carolina's Jay Wooten kicked 'em high and short, averaging only the ten yard line. Auburn could not do much with the Gamecock coverage, and three Tigers averaged only 18 yards per return.
Place-kicking: B+. Points off for Wes Byrum missing a 36 yard attempt, but the rest of Byrum's kicks were good. Byrum consistently boomed kickoffs deep, averaging 69.7 yards, or almost to the goal line. Auburn coverage held Carolina to 19.7 yards per return.
Offensive Line: A+. The strength of the South Carolina defense is the line. Auburn managed 5.7 yards per carry on the ground, and there were no sacks given up. Often, Newton had all day to look for receivers. This performance is even more amazing when you consider that Carolina was routinely rushing seven or eight guys. These amazing linemen paved the way for Auburn to convert 9 of 12 third downs.
Receivers: A. Some folks will question this grade. There were a couple of high profile Darvin Adams dropped passes, but in a typical college game you're going to have at least one drop per ten attempts. 2 drops in 29 attempts is not bad at all. The 7 passes Adams caught went for an average of 31 yards each. South Carolina went with a lot of man-to-man coverage, and Adams and Emory Blake made 'em pay! Great job by Adams snagging that rebound on the Hail Mary pass before the half!
Quarterback: A. I have to count off for the fumble, but it was Cam's first lost fumble of the year. At the beginning of the year, I expected that a junior college running quarterback would commit a lot of turnovers getting started in the SEC. In 13 games, Cam Newton has only 6 interceptions and 1 lost fumble. That's incredible! And that's while leading the league in rushing and pass efficiency! Newton did not disappoint in this game. Newton hit some big league throws, and picked up the tough yards on the ground. Both scoring runs featured Carolina players being completely run over!
A big salute goes out to the Auburn Tigers for the largest win in SEC Title Game history! These Tigers have been tested this season, and have overcome every challenge. There's just one game left, and it's for a national championship. These Tigers will go to Glendale Arizona with a lot of confidence!
Confetti rained down on the SEC Champions!
I would not want to be a defensive coordinator facing this offense. The Tigers have proved to be able to execute an effective running game no matter how many men you put in the box. Pressuring Newton is dangerous. If you don't get him down, he makes big plays. If you leave Auburn's receivers in single coverage, they will score on you. I'd imagine that the Ducks will use their defensive quickness to try and slip past the line and disrupt timing and handoffs in the backfield. They'll have to use their depth, because Auburn's offensive line wears out defensive players!
Defensively, Auburn must play Oregon with disciplined coverage. The Ducks have as much team speed as any school in the SEC. It's going to be necessary for a four man rush to generate pressure and disrupt the inside running game. Until Auburn really figures out the Duck gameplan, there'll probably be some yards given up. Both offensive coordinators will have a month to scheme, and I think you'll see some wild ideas. The real key will be if the offenses can maintain their edge and timing over the long lay-off before the bowl game.
Hail to the SEC Champion Auburn Tigers! It's only the second squad in Auburn history to be 13-0, and it has a chance to go where no Tiger team has gone before! War Eagle!