Auburn started off strongly against South Carolina, but the offense and defense both sputtered out in the second half.
The Tigers lost 30-22 to the Gamecocks after going up 9-0 early in the game. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn started his post-game press conference by saying, “It was a disappointing loss, but I am proud of our guys fighting until the end.”
Classic Malzahn statement.
The offense started out nicely in the first quarter by finally throwing intermediate passes and balancing the offense just as promised from a Chad Morris offense. Malzahn touched on the offensive balance saying, “If you look at the stat sheet, we wanted to be balanced and for the most part we were. I think we were 209 yards rushing and 272 [passing].”
Accomplishing these things starts up front with the offensive line. Auburn’s line has been struggling this year and has been called out on it multiple times. However, when asked about the line play this week, Malzahn said, “I think while we were mixing in the run and the pass I thought our guys did a solid job. We had five guys, and we kept five guys out there… I think now you’ll see them grow and improve.”
Offensive balance and production was excellent for the Tigers early, and caused them to get out to an early lead. However, they were unable to pull out the win due to costly turnovers on offense.
“I think, like I said, the big thing was the three turnovers leading to 21 points,” Malzahn said in reference to what went wrong on offense. He then discussed how the three interceptions thrown by Bo Nix affected the game, saying, “I think for the most part they were short fields, one of them was from the eight-yard line, so that made it tough on [the defense].”
Nix’s trio of interceptions were the story of Auburn’s loss. Three of South Carolina’s four touchdowns came after an interception thrown by Nix.
When asked about the two turnovers in the first half that changed the game’s momentum, Malzahn said, “I don’t think we punted in the first half, so the turnovers were tough, but still we were still in pretty good shape coming out of halftime.”
Malzahn pointed out, “We got the ball coming out, we had the lead, and we went down and put three points on the board which I thought was big.”
Everything was going great for the Tiger defense before the interceptions began. They had only allowed the Gamecocks to get one first down all game long until the first interception.
On the defensive performance early, Malzahn had this to say about Kevin Steele’s squad, “We got off to a very good start defensively, and some three and outs, and got the ball back to our offense.”
The Auburn defense held South Carolina’s offense to 297 total yards compared to the Tigers’ 481 yards. Linebacker Owen Pappoe even had an interception in the game. Pappoe spoke to the media after the game about the performance on his side of the ball. He said, “I really think we were hurting ourselves with a lot of penalties that we had man, so we’ve got to get that corrected in practice you know, so we can get off the field on third down.”
Third down defense would have been a highlight for the Auburn defense if not for penalties, as Pappoe stated. The Tiger offense also started out strongly on converting third downs but couldn’t keep that trend up through the end of the game.
Receiver Eli Stove spoke to the media after the loss as well, adding some praise to his quarterback even after Nix had a sub-par night. Stove gave a glimpse into the competitive spirit of Nix. While discussing Auburn’s final drive Stove said, “He is a competitor. Like that hurdle he tried to do, that just showed me he wants to win.”
Stove added, “Most quarterbacks won’t do that, they will just run out of bounds or something, but he wanted that first down.”
Stove caught a touchdown from Nix for the second week in a row, and Stove said he didn’t even know that he was that close to the end zone because he was so focused on getting to the middle of the field.
Overall, the Tigers had a rough game, and this was a major setback for the season. However, they have a chance for some redemption against Ole Miss next week. A win in Oxford could gain Auburn some much needed confidence going forward. However, a loss could start to cause disruption in the locker room and might be enough to set Malzahn’s seat fully ablaze.
Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: email@example.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.