Ellis Johnson was realistic.
"Nobody's stopped him," Johnson said after No. 18 South Carolina practiced on Thursday. "We've just got to try to tackle well, make mental assignments and all those types of things. We'll try to do some things to guess at the right time. Obviously, he presents a lot of problems."
Three guesses on who he was referring to ...
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Auburn's incredibly dynamic quarterback, Cameron Newton, will be the biggest hurdle standing in the way of the Gamecocks' first SEC championship on Saturday. The multi-tooled athlete, who rushed for 176 yards and threw for 158 in the Tigers' 35-27 win over USC on Sept. 25, was impossible to handle all night.
Eight games later, No. 2 Auburn has yet to lose and is gunning for a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. Newton has been the biggest reason why, and after a lingering NCAA investigation cleared him of wrongdoing earlier this week, may feel like a 100-pound weight is off his shoulders (not that it affected him in the previous games).
But while Auburn and Newton dream of greatness, USC is striving to be the team that overcomes yet another next-to-impossible task. The Gamecocks had never beaten a top-ranked team before they did it this year, and they had also never won a game at Florida, until they went to Gainesville, dominated and won the SEC East championship.
Winning two straight games over Clemson had been done, but not in 40 years; USC broke a lengthy streak and did that, too. Now it's aiming to add one more memory to a wonderful season, but knows it will be an extremely tall order.
The Gamecocks do have one semi-advantage - they know what to expect.
"Until you try to tackle him, you just don't understand the physicality of the thing and how strong he is and how hard it is to get him on the ground," Johnson said. "It's a bad education, but our players are educated on just how difficult it is to get him on the ground."
USC knows of Newton's particularities, delaying the handoff or the way he can fake the carry, and is hoping to be able to limit him. The defense has played much better in the four weeks since Arkansas carved it apart, and the Gamecocks will have the top-ranked rushing defense in the league at its disposal.
That run defense, anchored by a workhorse front four, will be intact as well. While a report from another media outlet broke on Thursday afternoon saying Travian Robertson had missed practice to be with his ailing father in North Carolina, it was proven false when Robertson showed up to practice. Johnson said he didn't know anything about the report and when asked if Robertson would play, looked surprised and answered, "Yeah."
The defense will have to keep an eye on Newton, as well as tailback Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb. The options the Tigers have had Johnson thinking of some of the Oklahoma offenses of the past.
"Kind of like a wishbone," Johnson said. "He's got three different options every time he touches the ball. Lot of skill and a lot of talent."
The Gamecocks know what they're up against and have been preparing for it, as well as keeping the same enthusiasm they've had all year intact. Johnson praised the team's intensity throughout, saying it had only slipped in spots but had always been righted.
"We really haven't had a bad week this year," Johnson said. "We had a little lack of focus on Furman week, couple of other weeks, but the kids' attitudes have been good all year."
NOTES: There were some intriguing faces in the stadium area on Thursday. South Pointe High School coach Bobby Carroll, who is playing for the Class AAA state championship on Saturday with his Stallions against Myrtle Beach, was seen with a couple of his players - place-kicker Landon Ard, a North-South selection, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a Shrine Bowl selection rated as Rivals.com's No. 1 recruit nationwide. … Quarterback Stephen Garcia was seen walking into the locker room without the left shoulder brace he wore on Wednesday. Coach Steve Spurrier said on his radio show that Garcia was fine in practice and will play on Saturday. … Ronald Patrick was not wearing a yellow jersey and should be able to play if needed, as he was last week at Clemson.
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