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Game Preview and Open Thread - #14 Auburn @ South Carolina

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Maybe this road trip will go a little better than the last one.

When the SEC schedule shifted around, and we had to add those carpetbaggers from Texas and Missouri, the already-confusing rotation got a little murkier.

Auburn hasn’t seen much of certain teams from the East. Yeah, we play Georgia every year, but the other schools in that division are a rare sight around the Plains, and the Tigers don’t really get to see road campuses much either.

We last saw Florida a year ago, but before that it was 2011.

Kentucky was the opener this year, but it was five years before that since we saw them.

Tennessee was 2018 and 2013.

Vanderbilt, uh... 2016 and 2012.

Missouri? Just once in the regular season — 2017 on the road.

And South Carolina? It’s been six years since we saw the Gamecocks in an epic offensive showdown on the Plains. Last time in Columbia? It’s been nine seasons since Gene Chizik’s last big win.

This year, the Tigers get to head to Williams-Brice Stadium one of the venues in which they’ve played the least in the conference. Auburn has visited just twice this millennium (2006/2011), with another meeting coming in 1997. We haven’t seen these much, yet, both sides have quite a bit in common.

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp?

Oh, maybe you mean former Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp...

Gamecock defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson?

Don’t you mean former Auburn defensive backs coach and all-SEC safety?

The bloodlines are intertwined.

I mean...

Majestic as hell.

Anyway, both of these teams come in questioning themselves a bit. We know about Auburn’s struggles — the Night-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named in Athens and the Pork Paradox from last week — and how the Tigers are trying to get right and establish a run game and something on offense. Meanwhile, Muschamp’s boys started 0-2 before beating a COVID-depleted Vanderbilt team last Saturday.

That’s not to say that both sides haven’t done good things. Auburn’s defense took some hits lately with the loss to Georgia and the second half against Arkansas, but injuries took their toll on the Tigers. However, last weekend was the first time this year that the run game looked like what we expect out of a Malzahn offense. Tank Bigsby is exceptionally impressive in his Tiger debut, and he rumbled for 268 total yards last weekend, most since Tre Mason in 2013.

Meanwhile, South Carolina lost a close game to Tennessee to open the year, and played even with Florida for much of the first half before falling behind. The Vandy game was no contest, so they’ve had a chance to taste success. Tailback Kevin Harris is a solid power back, and Shi Smith is a danger on the perimeter, though, and the defense is adept at stopping the run (oh, joy!). Tennessee ran for 133 yards on 4.0 yards per carry, while Florida hit just 80 yards on 24 carries, and Vandy went for just 76 yards on 33 carries.

If Auburn wants to win, it’s almost certain that they’ll need to get Tank Bigsby and the rest of the run game going, but that might be tougher than it appears.

SERIES HISTORY: Auburn leads the all-time series 10-1-1, with South Carolina’s only mild success coming in a 16-14 win in Birmingham in 1933 and a 20-20 tie at the same spot a year before. Auburn has won eight meetings in a row, all since the Gamecocks joined the SEC.

LAST MEETING: 42-35 win for Auburn in 2014.

LAST WEEK: Auburn escaped Arkansas 30-28 with Anders Carlson’s game-winning field goal with seven seconds left. South Carolina had no trouble beating Vanderbilt 41-7 for their first win of the season.

KEY STARTERS:

AUBURN

  • Bo Nix: 54-95, 597 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT
  • Tank Bigsby: 34 carries, 192 yards; 11 catches, 84 yards
  • Seth Williams: 12 catches, 216 yards, 2 TDs
  • Anthony Schwartz: 21 catches, 197 yards, 1 TD
  • Zakoby McClain: 32 tackles, 1 sack
  • Roger McCreary: 11 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT

SOUTH CAROLINA

  • Kevin Harris: 56 carries, 326 yards, 4 TDs
  • Collin Hill: 69-110, 698 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
  • Shi Smith: 26 catches, 271 yards, 2 TDs
  • Ernest Jones: 29 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1 sack
  • Kingsley Enagbare: 13 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 3 sacks

KEYS FOR AUBURN:

  1. THIRD DOWNS. It was a bugaboo against Kentucky and we thought, alright, game one. We let Stetson Bennett escape the rush in Week 2, and it was a trend. Now after Kendall Briles answered every single blitz that Kevin Steele threw at the Hogs on third down last Saturday and beat most of them, it’s a problem. South Carolina has the kind of offense that can move the ball on the ground and set up third and manageable. Auburn has to be better at giving the offense more opportunities to work, and the Gamecocks’ ball control attack will try to limit the number of drives that Auburn gets. Have to have more third down stops. Gus Malzahn needs to flip the script and that starts here and on the other side of the ball...
  2. CONTROL THE CLOCK WITH THE RUN GAME. Tank Bigsby has emerged as a star in Auburn’s backfield, and his running ability is taking pressure off of Bo Nix. He hasn’t found the end zone yet, but that time isn’t far off. He’s the most talented freshman back we’ve had showing out since his position coach, and he’s the answer to set Auburn up with the desirable second-and-medium, third-and-short type of situations. If Auburn can string together some longer drives and pound the rock, then they can flip the narrative and do exactly what Arkansas wants to do. It won’t hurt being able to run the ball with some of the next games coming up either.
  3. HEALTH. Are we getting some guys back? Yes indeed. Auburn’s offense only played 15 guys last weekend, but we should have a healthy Eli Stove back this weekend. His presence will pay dividends for Bo Nix and open up both the passing and running games. On the other side of the ball, K.J. Britt is still out after thumb surgery, but some of Auburn’s other defensive players should be back, preventing a late game slump like we saw last weekend.
  4. IS GUS ALREADY COACHING FOR HIS JOB? I’m not the first one to say it, but if you look at some of the chatter around the internet, the loss to Georgia was another nail in the coffin for Gus’ time at Auburn. If we’d lost to Arkansas, it would’ve been a matter of time. Over his time at Auburn, there have been multiple times that he’s saved his job with clutch wins. Look at 2017. Look at the Iron Bowl last year. Despite the flaccid nature of the Georgia loss, Auburn could turn it around and may likely be favored in each of the next four or five games. Win those, and you’re back in the top ten, sitting pretty as you head into Amen Corner Pt. II. When Gus needs to, he wins. This could be the start of that just as the running game is starting to get going.

STRESS-O-METER:

Man, it’s fall and the leaves are starting to look beautiful. We’re not stressed at all.