Stephen Garcia and company hope for better luck against the Auburn defense.
War Eagle, everybody! It's hard to believe September is nearly at an end. This weekend, Auburn's October meat-grinder begins in Columbia, South Carolina against the Gamecocks. South Carolina looks for their first win over Auburn in 77 years. The Tigers must find a way to slow down a veteran offense, and generate points. The TV News folks yesterday evening seemed to think that a loss to Auburn would take South Carolina out of title consideration, but I don't see it. With a Gamecock loss, who becomes the leader in the East? Georgia? USC still owns that tie-breaker. Florida? With superbacks Rainey and Demps already on the walking wounded list after a diet of cupcakes, who really thinks they'll make it through the Bama game intact? Not me. I don't think anyone is seriously entertaining Tennessee, Vanderbilt or Kentucky as contenders.
Auburn has a stellar if sparse record against the Gamecocks over the years. The Tigers have an 8-1-1 mark against the Gamecocks all time, losing only once. The Tigers first got together with the Gamecocks on November 27, 1930, on Thanksgiving Day in Columbus, Georgia. The Tigers were led by first year coach Chet Wynne, and it had been a tough year. The Tigers were frequent losers in the latter half of the 1920s, and they had gone 2-7 in 1930. South Carolina was led by veteran coach Billy Laval who had a successful 12 year stint with Furman before joining South Carolina in 1928. The 1930 Gamecocks came into the matchup at 6-3, with notable wins over LSU, Sewanee, and North Carolina State. Wynne's Tigers showed a glimpse of good years to come, with a 25-7 upset win.
The two teams staged a Thanksgiving Day rematch the next year, in Montgomery. Auburn had done a bit better in 1931, entering the last game of the season at 4-3-1. Laval's Gamecocks were 5-3-1. Auburn took it late, 13-6.
The game moved to Birmingham in 1932, to be played on December 2nd. Wynne's Tigers were playing well, and entered the contest with a perfect 9-0 record. The Tigers were already Southern Conference co-champions, and were wining by an average score of 28 to 4. Laval's squad had put together a respectable 5-4-1 campaign. The teams battled to a 20-20 tie. Incredibly, at 9-0-1, Auburn did not make a bowl trip.
The teams met again in Birmingham in 1934, on December 3rd. The Tigers had not fared as well in the newly formed SEC, going only 5-4. Laval's Gamecocks were 5-3-1, but a 0-0 tie with Furman had spoiled the team's chances of sweeping the state of South Carolina. South Carolina survived the game, winning 16-14. Chet Wynne would take the Kentucky job at the end of the season, and the South Carolina series went with him. Billy Laval would coach one more season with the Gamecocks before leaving. Auburn would not play South Carolina again for 62 years.
The series renewed on October 5th, 1996, in Auburn. South Carolina was now an SEC member. Both teams were coming off disappointing losses. USC had lost to the MSU Bulldogs 14-10 at home, and Auburn had watched the Sports Arena burn down in a 19-15 loss to LSU. Carolina dominated early, moving up and down the field with new quarterback Anthony Wright, and held a 7-0 lead till 5 minutes left in the half. Robert Baker exploded for a 79 yard punt return to tie it. Then, Auburn's Dameyune Craig, relentlessly harried all afternoon, escaped from a sure sack and threw off-balance way downfield and hit Tyrone Goodson at the goal line for an improbable 51 yard touchdown. Wright and tenacious runner Duce Staley kept the Gamecocks moving, and they took the 21-14 lead on a pair of Wright scoring passes in the 3rd quarter. Auburn answered, scoring early in the 4th. Carolina notched a field goal with about 10 minutes left in the game, and stopped Auburn seemingly for the final time with about 6 minutes left. Auburn's Mark Smith and Leonardo Carson combined for a sack-strip of quarterback Anthony Wright, and Auburn miraculously had the ball deep in Gamecock territory. Dameyune scored the wining TD on a 10 yard run. Auburn survived a last ditch Carolina drive when a wide-open Ben Fleming dropped a well-thrown pass at the Auburn 10 yard line with 29 seconds left in the game. Auburn won it, 28-24.
Auburn made their first ever trip to Columbia to kick off early, on October 4th, 1997. A short Jaret Holmes punt on the first drive set South Carolina up on the Auburn side of the field early, but a dropped 3rd down pass held the Gamecocks to an early 3-0 lead. The teams spent the rest of the first quarter zipping up and down the field between the 30s, but stalling. Dameyune Craig finally got Auburn over the hump early in the 2nd quarter with a 36 yard bomb to the back of the end zone to Karsten Bailey. Bailey caught the TD, but crunched painfully into the hedges behind the endzone. South Carolina won the punting battle the rest of the half, and used a short field to notch a field goal just before half. Auburn led 7-6. The Tigers forced a punt to start the second half, then went on an 85 yard march to take a 14-6 lead. The Tiger defense dominated from that point, as South Carolina managed only 3 first downs the rest of the game. Auburn scored a safety after a Craig pass was picked off by Herbert Torrance at the USC 13, then fumbled back into the end zone. Carolina recovered in the end zone for the Auburn safety. Auburn cashed a Wright fumble for another scoring drive late, and Auburn beat South Carolina in Columbia 23-6. The Tigers had held USC to only 198 total yards.
South Carolina returned to Auburn on the evening of October 1st, 2005. New Steve Spurrier quarterback starter Antonio Hefner called a timeout before the Gamecock's first offensive snap, then called a second timeout on 2nd and 10. Auburn drove for a Kenny Irons score. Heffner would fumble the ball away to set up a quick Auburn field goal. A short punt and 23 yard Tre Smith punt return set up another score. Auburn led 17-0 at the end of one quarter, and 31-0 at the half. It wasn't till 6:14 left in the game that Heffner got South Carolina on the board with a 45 yard toss to Sidney Rice. Auburn won the game 48-7, in the largest margin of the series.
Auburn traveled to Columbia for an evening game on September 28th, 2006. Coach Spurrier was still having quarterback problems, and for this game he moved senior wide receiver Syvelle Newton to quarterback. Auburn's gameplan was to run Kenny Irons early and often. The Tigers built a 14-3 lead with that philosophy, but could not seem to tackle Newton. The elusive newly found quarterback kept plays alive with his feet, and the Gamecocks finally managed to harness that with a masterful drive just before half. Newton hit Kenny McKinley for the score with less than a minute left, and Auburn clung to a narrow 14-10 lead at the half. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was very worried about his defense at that point. Auburn took the second half kickoff, and went on a 17-play drive, ending in a John Vaughn field goal with 6:22 left in the third quarter, to give Auburn a 17-10 lead. Tuberville then called for the onside kick. Auburn recovered, and then ate the rest of the third quarter clock with a 13 play drive. South Carolina did not have the ball on offense at all in the 3rd! On the first play of the 4th quarter, Kenny Irons dove in for the score, and Auburn led 24-10. It nearly wasn't enough. Midway through the 4th, Newton hit Jared Cook on a 25 yard scoring play to pull within 24-17. Auburn ran the clock down to about 5 minutes, then punted back. An 18 play South Carolina drive ended with a patented Steve Spurrier fade pattern in the end zone on 4th down. Patrick Lee was the Auburn hero, swatting the ball away from Gamecock receiver Sidney Rice. Auburn survived, 24-17.
South Carolina returned to Auburn on the stifling evening of September 25th, 2010. New Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton placed himself on the Heisman radar early with a 54 yard run and huge dive into the endzone. Stephen Garcia and Alshon Jeffery were a passing combination to be reckoned with, though. Garcia hit Jeffery for the tying score moments later. Auburn fumbles by Mario Fannin and Michael Dyer set the Gamecocks up twice in Auburn territory, and the Gamecocks had a 20-7 lead. Auburn had never really been stopped in the game, though. The Tigers drove late in the half, and capped the drive with a 3 yard Newton plunge. Carolina led 20-14 at the break. With 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Auburn took the lead 21-20 with another short Newton run. Stephen Garcia responded with a 69 yard throw and catch to Alshon Jeffery. A short fade to Tori Gurley put the Gamecocks back in front, 27-21. Auburn went on a 16 play drive to USC one yard line, but a false start backed the Tigers up. From there, Wes Byrum clanked the field goal try off the uprights, and the game seemed in doubt early in the 4th. On South Carolina's first play thereafter, Garcia fumbled it right back to Auburn. This time, Cam Newton hit a throwback pass to Phillip Lutzenkirchen, and Auburn was back on top. The Gamecocks drove it just past midfield, when a Mike Blanc sack forced another Stephen Garcia fumble. Auburn had it, and drove to the USC 12. From there, a screen to Emory Blake and a twisting, turning, dodging run after the catch had Auburn in the end zone again. Coach Steve Spurrier benched Garcia, and turned to freshman Connor Shaw. Shaw drove the Gamecocks twice deep into Auburn territory, but interceptions by Josh Bynes and Demond Washington ended the threats. Auburn hung on, 35-27.
The Tigers and Gamecocks met again in 2010, in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, on Saturday afternoon of December 4th. Auburn opened with the full bag of tricks, hitting a fake statue of Liberty play for a 62 yard pass, followed by a fumblerooski. A checkdown flare to Onterio McCalebb cashed in for the score. Carolina answered with a post pattern deep throw to fullback Patrick DiMarco. Auburn took a 14-7 first quarter lead when Cam Newton took a 5 yard quarterback draw over two Gamecock defenders. The Tigers extended the lead on a 54 yard hitch and go pass to Darvin Adams for a 21-7 first quarter lead. Both teams bogged down a bit in the 2nd quarter, managing to trade missed field goals. The Gamecocks managed to execute the two minute drill, hitting Alshon Jeffery on the slant for the score with just 13 seconds left in the half. Auburn's Cam Newton answered with a 51 yard hail Mary to Darvin Adams for a 28-14 halftime lead. Auburn started the 2nd half with another long drive, and Newton "pile-drived" for a 35-14 lead. A panicked Stephen Garcia pick six later, and Auburn had a huge 42-14 lead. It crumbed from there, as Auburn went on to score a 56-17 win, the largest margin in SEC title game history.
Last season, the Auburn lines on both sides of the ball stepped up for the South Carolina games. I think they will once again. I think Auburn has essentially spent the last two weeks working on the game plan for this one, and I think it will show. This is the SEC's big afternoon showpiece game this weekend, at 2:30 PM Central Time on CBS. As usual, we'll have an open thread up on Saturday morning and we'll do our crazy banter during the game. As always, feel free to join in and cheer on our Tigers! War Eagle! Let's beat those Gamecocks once again!