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December 1, 2010

SEC Writers Discuss USC-Auburn

GAMECOCKCENTRAL SPOKE WITH SEVERAL RIVALS.COM WRITERS FROM THE SEC (AND CLEMSON), ALL OF WHOM COVERED GAMES THIS SEASON INVOLVING AUBURN AND/OR SOUTH CAROLINA.


When the team you cover played USC, did you leave the game thinking that USC was a legitimate SEC East title contender?

Anthony Dasher (covers Georgia): Being it was just Game 2, it was a little difficult to say. However, with as impressive as Lattimore was, I kind of felt if Garcia could just show some consistency in his game then South Carolina might be the division's surprise team.

Chris Walsh (covers Alabama): Absolutely. Although I felt like everything had to go right for the Gamecocks to win (and it did), I thought South Carolina had a chance to win the division beforehand and left the stadium that night believing it was the team to beat in the SEC East.

Matt May (covers Kentucky): It depends on whether you evaluated the Gamecocks on their first half performance or second. They looked like a well-oiled machine in the first half while racing out to that big lead, but were pedestrian (by SEC standards) in the second half in allowing Kentucky to make its comeback. UK scored on everyone so that didn't catch my eye but once Marcus Lattimore went down that night the offense was not very good against an awful UK defense. Still, it was clear Carolina's only real competition in the East was Florida and I still felt if the Gamecocks played a full game they were better than the Gators.

Trey Biddy (covers Arkansas): Well, to be fair, I don't think South Carolina played very well when Arkansas met them in Columbia. Marcus Lattimore was banged up and so much of what they do on offense is centered around the threat of him rushing the ball. Take that away and South Carolina really seems to struggle finding a rhythm. Arkansas on the other hand was starting to peak. I make it a point to watch every relevant SEC game (DVR if not live). When I first saw Lattimore run against Southern Miss my only thought was that maybe they would run him to death by the time Arkansas got to Columbia. I did feel like USC was looking ahead to Florida because that was a big game for them. I thought they would be in the SEC Championship Game and would beat the Gators if Lattimore got healthier, which he did.

Larry Williams (covers Clemson): This one doesn't apply to me, but I did watch the Georgia game early in the year. That left me thinking the Gamecocks were a legitimate title contender. Then, obviously the Alabama beatdown coupled with the overall decline of the SEC East made them a completely legitimate contender in my eyes.


Likewise, when the team you cover played Auburn, did you leave the game with the feeling that Auburn was a legitimate national title contender?

Logan Lowery (covers Mississippi State): It was the second game of the season so it was way too early to be looking that far down the road. However, I did leave the game feeling that MSU should have won the game on multiple opportunities and lost the game more than Auburn won it.

Larry Williams (covers Clemson): Clemson played Auburn in the third game of the season, and I didn't walk away thinking Auburn was a legitimate national title contender. I was in love with Cam Newton from the first moment I saw him in their opener against Arkansas State, and I thought he'd be unstoppable in Gus Malzahn's system. But I had major questions about their defense. Obviously, those shortcomings haven't kept them from the cusp of the BCS title game.

Matt May (covers Kentucky): Yes. College football is so dependent on dominant players and Cam Newton was as dominant as anyone I had seen since Vince Young at Texas, but threw the ball better than Young. I wasn't sure if the Tigers' defense was good enough to hold up against teams like Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia, but there was no question in my mind they were a legitimate contender as long as Newton was under center. You simply can't gameplan for some of the stuff he's capable of doing.

Trey Biddy (covers Arkansas): When Arkansas and Auburn met, Arkansas was still trying to discover a rushing attack, while Auburn on the other hand was finally starting to realize what they had in Cameron Newton. Like USC with Lattimore, Newton is the guy who stirs the drink. Without him they are just a good team. With him they are near unstoppable. After the game with Auburn I thought they would certainly be in the SEC Championship Game. I think Arkansas got Auburn's best shot that day, and I don't think that's the case with the Carolina game.

Neal McCready (covers Ole Miss): Interestingly, no. I didn't get the impression that Ole Miss was all that impressed. The Rebels felt like Auburn would lose games. In particular, Ole Miss had played Alabama three weeks earlier and several players said they believed Auburn would lose in Tuscaloosa. Several Ole Miss players, in particular nose tackle Jerrell Powe, didn't feel the Tigers were physical enough to win a national championship.

Anthony Dasher (covers Georgia): No question. It was the next to last game and Cam completely dominated the field. He's the difference in them being where they are and a team with four losses right now.

Chris Walsh (covers Alabama): Yep, although I also felt like Alabama lost the game more than Auburn won it.


Do you believe slowing down Cam Newton is the key to USC winning the game? If so, why? If not, what is?

Chris Walsh (covers Alabama): I think the Crimson Tide had the right blueprint, although had more trouble on the edges with the running backs as the game progressed. Coming in the Auburn quarterback was averaging 117.9 rushing yards (307.9 as a team) and was the only player in the country with five 170-yard performances this season. He had just 39 yards against Alabama, and his biggest completion, a 70-yard touchdown, probably would have been an interception under normal circumstances but Mark Barron was playing with a torn pectoral muscle and he fanned on the ball and receiver.

Larry Williams (covers Clemson): Absolutely. Alabama did a good job of it last week, but I was a little surprised Auburn didn't do more to try to get him running the ball early. They just seemed a little stagnant. In my opinion, it's not just Newton. It's Newton playing in that offense. Newton would be difficult to defend if he were anywhere, but he's infinitely more difficult to defend at Auburn because of all the tricked-up stuff Malzahn does. It's amazing how many ways they can beat you with all the misdirection and fakes and such.

Logan Lowery (covers Mississippi State): Absolutely. Cam is no doubt the best player in college football and one of the best I've ever covered. I think Dan Mullen's knowledge of Cam's game helped the Bulldogs game plan against him and I believe held him to the fewest yards he's had all year. His ability to create on his own is his most dangerous attribute in my opinion.

Matt May (covers Kentucky): Absolutely. Again, Newton is as dominant a player as I can remember in college football and the ball is in his hands every single offensive play. If you can't slow him down then you have to outscore the Tigers and even the best offenses to take their shot at Auburn haven't been able to do that.

Neal McCready (covers Ole Miss): Obviously, Newton is a dangerous player. However, Ole Miss contained him in the running game and Newton destroyed them through the air. Also, freshman running back Michael Dyer had a huge day with Ole Miss keying on Newton. Then again, Ole Miss' defense was in the Christmas spirit all season long. The Rebels were quite generous and they were always lit up.

Trey Biddy (covers Arkansas): It is definitely the key to winning the game. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, I don't believe there is a defense in this conference outside of Tuscaloosa that can stop him. But, I wonder if he's healthy. He came up a bit lame at the end of the Alabama game and I felt like he was a decoy that last series. Stop Newton, beat Auburn. There are some good skill players on that team, but Newton is the best college quarterback in the country, and it's not because of the talent around him, it's because he's such a gifted runner. As a passer, he gets the job done and has a high efficiency rating, but if he were more fundamentally sound he would be even better. He throws off his back foot or flat-footed a lot.

Anthony Dasher (covers Georgia): Yes, Obviously. But controlling Nick Fairley is pretty big, too.


Did you or the sources within the program you cover come away from the Auburn game feeling as though the Tiger defense played dirty?

Anthony Dasher (covers Georgia): In my game, two players were kicked out for fighting, so draw your own conclusions, lol. But yes, there were several very questionable hits, including a helmet-to-back shot by Fairley on Aaron Murray that was well after the pass had been thrown. Georgia officials could not believe there was not a suspension.

Matt May (covers Kentucky): I never got that impression, but clearly the Georgia game changed everything. But there were no incidents in the Auburn-Kentucky game that suggested anything like that was going on that particular night.

Logan Lowery (covers Mississippi State): I never got that feeling although it was a tough battle in the trenches all night between MSU's offensive line and Auburn's D-line.

Larry Williams (covers Clemson): Yeah, there was some of that. They thought Auburn was doing stuff after the whistle and out of bounds. And, of course, Kyle Parker suffered bruised ribs after absorbing a helmet to his back. Auburn's defense definitely plays on the edge. I thought some of the stuff we saw from Fairley against Georgia was awful.

Trey Biddy (covers Arkansas): They were physical, and Nick Fairley is a first round quality beast. I felt like the hit he put on Mallett that knocked him out of the game with a concussion was excessive, grabbing him by the back of the shoulder pads and pulling him to the ground. Probably should've been a flag. I wouldn't say the team played dirty, because I was more focused on the poor officiating in that game, but I do think Fairley does more that what I would consider sportsmanlike. At the same time, if he was on South Carolina's team or Arkansas' those fans would love him.

Neal McCready (covers Ole Miss): No one said that specifically, but the Ole Miss defensive line was quite angry after that game. I figured it was the 51 points they surrendered, but maybe it was something else.

Chris Walsh (covers Alabama): Interesting question, and regardless numerous Tigers are getting that reputation -- especially the linemen. Although Greg McElroy got knocked out of the game with a concussion (on a clean tackle), two other things on the same possession raised my eyebrow. On a play he stepped up and while falling forward barely got a pass off to sophomore running back Trent Richardson for a 9-yard gain, McElroy took a nasty shot to the neck that probably should have drawn a penalty. A few plays later on a quarterback sneak he took a hit to the head and the defender continued to push his neck and back both backward even though his forward progress had been stopped. Things like that.


What do you think the score of the game will be and why?

Larry Williams (covers Clemson): I think the Gamecocks are capable of beating Auburn, but I just don't see it happening. Auburn presents so many issues for a defense horizontally and vertically. And even though South Carolina's defense is more than competent and has been playing really well lately, I don't see this as a good matchup for the Gamecocks.

Logan Lowery (covers Mississippi State): I don't usually make predictions but I'd say something like Auburn 31, South Carolina 17. Auburn's has been strong all season long and from what I've seen on TV the Gamecocks are inconsistent. They will look like a Top 10 team one week and then an average at best team the next. Depending on which USC team shows up will be how competitive a game it is.

Trey Biddy (covers Arkansas): In this conference, never count anybody out (as Gamecock fans well know). For USC, I like that they've faced Auburn already this season, but I still don't think there's a scheme out there that can stop Newton unless it's run with 11 NFL-type players. The Gamecocks have played well since the loss to Arkansas, but I also think Auburn is a better team since they faced South Carolina last time. As much as Arkansas fans seem to despise Auburn, they will not be rooting for the Gamecocks in this one because the Sugar Bowl is on the line for the Hogs.

Matt May (covers Kentucky): I'm fascinated to see Auburn's mental approach to this game. We all know the Iron Bowl is such an emotional game and even more so given the Tigers had to come back from such a large deficit. Do they have anything left in the tank? Will they think they've already got the BCS Championship Game berth locked up? If so, South Carolina will beat them. I think this is a closer game than most people suspect it will be, but if you held me to the fire I'd say Newton makes a play when Auburn needs it most and they sneak out of Atlanta with a win. I'll go Auburn 27, South Carolina 24.

Chris Walsh (covers Alabama): I've always wondered how things might have played out if South Carolina didn't have four fourth-quarter turnovers to Auburn in their first meeting. I pretty much expect Alshon Jeffery to have another big game, but for Auburn's running game to eventually break through. In my mind, South Carolina can win this game, but I'm picking Auburn: 33-27.

Neal McCready (covers Ole Miss): I believe South Carolina can score and will give Auburn one hell of a game, personally. The key is balance on offense. I think the Gamecocks can do that and give the Tigers a scare, but Auburn showed its mettle in Tuscaloosa. I'll take Auburn, 31-21.

Anthony Dasher (covers Georgia): I'm going the other way. Auburn has been very fortunate in a number of games this year and I think Coach Spurrier and Coach Ellis will have a great plan. South Carolina 28, Auburn 24.


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