We look at the key plays, players, and questions from the win over Auburn.
Three Key Plays
1. Horn’s first interception
South Carolina was dead in the water when Jaycee Horn grabbed his first interception. The Gamecocks had managed just 21 yards on 15 plays in the first quarter, and Auburn was moving the ball with ease. South Carolina’s third down defense, a strength coming into the game, wasn’t able to get off the field. On third and 11, Tonka Hemingway forced Bo Nix to roll out to his left. Nix threw late into coverage, and Horn made the diving interception. The play provided a much needed spark, and the Gamecocks quickly scored.
2. Horn’s second interception
The Gamecocks had taken the lead. Then they got a stop. And then they were driving in Tiger territory. But when Auburn got an interception off a deflected pass, suddenly all that momentum was in jeopardy. The Tigers got a first down, and then Nix tried to force a pass to Seth Williams, despite being blanketed by Horn. It fell incomplete. On third down, Nix again forced a pass to Williams. This wasn’t incomplete. Horn snatched the pass at the 42 and ran up the sideline, eventually being knocked out by Nix at the eight-yard line. Kevin Harris scored on the next play and the Gamecocks were back in control.
“That was a huge momentum swing in the game where it was a little bit in the balance,” Will Muschamp said.
3. Shi Smith on his back
Up a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, South Carolina leaned on its run game to run out the clock. It couldn’t quite do it, and on third and seven, Collin Hill chucked a deep fade to Smith. Smith jumped, and managed to tip the ball to himself as he landed on his back. The 32-yard catch made up the bulk of the nine play, 58 yard drive, but it was enough to get in field goal range, and Parker White drilled a 39-yard field goal to make it a two score game.
Two Game Balls
With apologies to Israel Mukuamu’s three-pick game against Georgia last season, Horn had the most dominant game for a Gamecock cornerback in a long time. Making it even more impressive was that South Carolina was without Mukuamu and Cam Smith. South Carolina decided during the week to have Horn shadow Auburn’s best receiver, Seth Williams. Normally, teams would throw away from Horn, especially against an injury-depleted secondary. But Auburn and Bo Nix decided to force the ball to Williams anyway, and Horn was fantastic. He was targeted eight times, and forced five incompletions, including one deflection that was intercepted by Jaylin Dickerson. Horn allowed only two catches, and caught two for himself.
“It felt good,” Horn said. “I kinda felt it throughout the week that I was going to have a chance to make plays. They like to get the ball to 18, and when T-Rob told me I was going to shadow him I knew I’d have chances.”
Others were more in awe.
“If there’s a better corner out there, I want to see him,” Will Muschamp said.
“That’s a bad man. I hate going against him,” Collin Hill said.
“If a team would throw at him like that every game, he’d do that every game,” Shi Smith said.
Kevin Harris/Deshaun Fenwick
I’m going to make them share a game ball. Harris did most of the work last week, but it was back to a two-back rotation this week. Harris had 25 carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Fenwick spelled him with 68 yards on 12 carries. They were a good one-two punch, with Harris pounding on Auburn between the tackles and then Fenwick finding creases on the edges. Harris also had a 78-yard touchdown run called back on a holding call. They got yards when everyone knew they were getting the ball, and neither one goes down easily.
“Those guys finish forward,” Muschamp said. “Both guys run behind their pads. Those guys for us are a really positive one-two punch.”
One Burning Question
Do the Gamecocks have enough of a passing game?
South Carolina ran the ball 43 times for 153 yards. That’s only 3.6 yards per carry, but don’t be misled - South Carolina ran the ball very well. Passing the ball? Not as much. Collin Hill was 15-24 for 144 yards, with a touchdown and interception. His longest pass was 32 yards. That was a 50-50 ball to Shi Smith. His next longest pass was a 20-yard completion to Nick Muse that was about a ten-yard pass and ten-yard run. Other than that, Hill had one deep pass to Keveon Mullins that drew a pass interference penalty. It’s hard to win without a vertical threat, and if South Carolina can’t establish something, it’s going to be hard to run the ball as defenses crowd the box.