SEC Championship: Auburn Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
4:00 PM ET Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Laying the scene
Why is this game the game of the week instead of the Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State? Well, at this point it doesn't look like anybody's going to be able to beat Oregon. That's right, anybody. South Carolina, on the other hand, has a fairly good shot at pulling off their 'biggest win in school history' for the second time in the same season.
A South Carolina win would likely send TCU, of the non-AQ variety, to the championship game, sending Dr. E. Gordon Gee, President of Ohio State who accused non-AQ contenders of playing the 'Little Sisters of the Poor' and then later admitted he should probably just keep his football opinions to himself, into a tizzy...privately, of course.
The Cam Newton story is put to rest for now with Newton declared ineligible to play for just one day (this past Tuesday if you were wondering) before he was cleared by the NCAA for Saturday's SEC Championship Game. Don't think for a minute that you've read the last Tweet pertaining to the story, but for now Tigers fans can rest assured that their star quarterback and the Heisman frontrunner will suit up for Saturday's big game.
What South Carolina has to do to win
Do not turn the ball over. Any team game planning for Auburn needs to do whatever they can to keep the ball out of Newton's hands as much as possible. He's their marquee player and, without discrediting the contributions of any of the other members of the Auburn football team, the reason they're undefeated with a national championship spot on the line. Four second half turnovers doomed the Gamecocks in their earlier matchup with the Tigers, and they cannot afford to make the same mistakes twice.
Stephen Garcia hasn't thrown an interception since throwing two in the November 6 loss to Arkansas when the Gamecocks were playing catch-up with the Razorbacks virtually all game. He also threw two in the loss to Kentucky. In the losses, Marcus Lattimore rushed 15 times against Arkansas and 11 times against Kentucky (he caught four passes for 133 yards and a touchdown against the Wildcats, however). Get Lattimore involved early and establish the run to control the game.
Garcia does have Biletnikoff Award finalist Alshon Jeffery and several talented receivers at his disposal, though, and taking advantage of the weaknesses in the Auburn secondary will give the Gamecocks the opportunity to strike big on a few occasions. Efficiency, game control and clock management will be the key to coming away with the win.
Defensively, what can I say? Limit Newton. Somehow, some way limit Newton's production. The front seven must keep Newton in front of them. The second he gets an angle, he's gone. If they play aggressive, but smart defense against the Tigers, they'll have a very good shot at winning. Collectively, this team must maintain focus all game long and cannot grow complacent (on offense or on defense) with any lead.
What Auburn has to do to win
Earmuffs. Don't listen to the buildup and don't focus on January 10 in Glendale. If they're already thinking about the BCS National Championship Game, they won't get there. There's been plenty of reasons that Auburn could slip up this season (the Newton recruiting mess, playing from behind, a vulnerable secondary, etc.), but the Tigers have won all 12 of their regular season games and have been one of the most steadfast, unflappable teams in the nation. If they maintain that focus through Saturday, they'll have their shot at the national title.
The key on offense is clear: allow Newton to do his thing and don't get cute. When Auburn and South Carolina played on September 25 in Auburn, Newton connected on 16 of his 21 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 25 times for 176 yards and three touchdowns. Just one of his rushing touchdowns came in the second half, but both of his passing touchdowns came in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers the win. Obviously, having played the Tigers once already this season and with a season's worth of game film available, the Gamecocks know what to expect from Newton and the Auburn offense, but for Auburn to win this one they'll keep with what's gotten them this far and perhaps throw in a unique wrinkle or two here or there.
Defensively the key will be, as it is so often, to stop the running game. Teams who are able to run the football are typically the ones who win these big games. With so much on the line, the Gamecocks will look to true freshman phenom Marcus Lattimore to establish the ground game early. Halting the ground game, though, will leave South Carolina to throw the ball against a suspect pass defense and the Gamecocks have a pretty good wide receiver in Jeffery to strike quickly. If the front seven controls the ground game and the secondary manages to play the way it did in the second half of the Iron Bowl, things will be difficult for the passing game.
Auburn. For a few reasons: Cam Newton is playing quarterback, they're resilient, they win tight games, their front seven, etc. Oh, and with all of the talk about a possible slip up in their final game before the national championship and with last week's early deficit to Alabama fresh on their minds, they'll come ready to play right out of the gate. - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.
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