South Carolina is an important test for the Tigers.
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On October 25th, after a week of rest, the Auburn Tigers host the South Carolina Gamecocks at Jordan Hare Stadium. Both teams will have been tested, and this game will be one Auburn needs to stay atop the SEC West. South Carolina showed in 2010 that it could lose this game, and still win the SEC East. These days in the West, even one SEC loss can eliminate a team.
Much has been made this season about the difficulty of Auburn’s football schedule, but South Carolina has a tough slate as well. The Gamecocks open with a trio of of home games; beginning with a Thursday night clash with Texas A&M. East Carolina and Georgia then visit. South Carolina closes out September with a road trip to Vanderbilt, then they host defending East champ Missouri. A road trip to Kentucky starts the month of October off, followed by an off week, then a tune up against Furman, before the Gamecocks head to Auburn. With Georgia and Missouri already having been played, South Carolina will know where they stand in their division race, by this time. Auburn will have played Arkansas and San Jose State at home, Kansas State on the road, Louisiana Tech for homecoming, then LSU. The Tigers have an off-week coming into this game, and both teams should be relatively well-rested.
Despite losing starting quarterback Connor Shaw and leading receiver Bruce Ellington, this should be a pretty dangerous South Carolina offense. They’ve got plenty of play-makers returning, starting with outstanding running back Mike Davis. New starting quarterback Dylan Thompson has plenty of experience coming off the bench for after Connor Shaw injuries, and should be adept as a passer. Where things will be different for South Carolina is that Thompson is much less of a scrambling threat, although he did notch 3 rushing touchdowns last season. South Carolina has depth and experience in both the receiving corps, and the backfield.
Where it gets interesting for the Gamecocks is on the defensive side of the ball. Both the defensive line and secondary will have to be rebuilt. There is talent in the wings on the defensive line, but I’ve seen several previews that state that incoming signees might win starting cornerback jobs. That’s either a tribute to the incoming class, or a sign of real trouble, probably both. South Carolina will try to build upon experience at linebacker, and talented senior Brison Williams in the secondary. Williams might have to move to corner, if a pair of serviceable starters aren’t found in fall camp.
On special teams, the Gamecocks return all three of their kicking specialists, and were more or less middle of the pack on both coverage units last season. Concerns include a ho-hum return game, and a fairly short 37.8 yards per punt. Much like Auburn did the past few years with Steven Clark, the idea seemed to be to generate high, floating punts that offered little chance for a decent return. Sophomore kicker Elliot Fry was a revelation as a freshman last season, doing very well.
Unit matchups, after the jump!