The flight home from Columbia, SC, to Auburn is going to feel much longer than 65 minutes today. After Auburn jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead (because of a missed two point conversion attempt), the Tigers slowly but surely watched the scoreboard change to as much as an 11 point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Eventually, South Carolina earned a 30-22 victory against Auburn, the second win of the season for the Gamecocks.
Auburn outgained South Carolina 481-297 in total offense yardage. However, out producing the Gamecocks by nearly 200 yards was squandered by Auburn turning the ball over three times. To make matters worse, each of the three interceptions thrown by quarterback Bo Nix gave South Carolina the ball in Auburn territory. South Carolina was able to take advantage of each of Nix’s interceptions and score touchdowns on the ensuing possessions every time. In fact, the Gamecocks had only one touchdown drive that did not originate in Auburn territory via turnover on the day.
Similarly, the Tigers’ defense that allowed very little yardage and no points to the Gamecocks in the first quarter, conceded 30 points over the final three quarters. Certainly the defense was not helped by having to defend short fields on multiple possessions, but over the course of the second half especially, South Carolina’s tailback duo of Kevin Harris and Deshaun Fenwick was able to wear down the Tigers to the tune of 151 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Below we look at a few critical areas that lead to South Carolina’s 30-22 win over Auburn.
Neither quarterback on the field had a stellar game today. South Carolina’s Collin Hill was not asked to do a lot other than protect the football. Hill did that successfully until late in the third quarter when Auburn defensive back Christian Tutt tipped a pass that was eventually intercepted by linebacker Owen Pappoe. Once that occured, Collin Hill only attempted four more passes the rest of the game. South Carolina was able to run the ball effectively in the second half, so they opted to do so on about 75% of their plays in the third and fourth quarter.
On the other side of the field, a different strategy was implemented. Admittedly, there is no easier place to coach or call plays from than the comfort of your couch. With that being said, Auburn’s decision to call 50 pass plays (47 pass attempts plus a few scrambles on called pass plays) for quarterback Bo Nix was borderline malpractice. It would be enough to question that many pass attempts if your only objection is the fact that the Tigers were averaging about 5.5 yards per carry. However, when you combine that with how uncomfortable Bo Nix was today, it was really a baffling decision.
Nix threw three interceptions today and that is clearly concerning. What may an even bigger problem, though, was that Bo Nix appeared to be rattled even when throwing completions. Every broadcast crew mentions Nix seemingly running from pressure that is often not there — and it’s true. But beyond that, Nix is regularly demonstrably displeased with coaches, other players and himself. Auburn’s coaches must find ways to make Nix more comfortable and get him some easy completions. Bo Nix is talented, smart and a competitor, but he is not Patrick Mahomes. So, it would likely benefit Auburn to adjust its gameplan accordingly.
Shi Smith shines
South Carolina receiver Shi Smith did not sneak up on Auburn. He was the Gamecocks’ leading receiver entering the game and is one of South Carolina’s most important players. That makes what Smith did today even more impressive. Undoubtedly, a big part of Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s gameplan was to limit Shi Smith. For most of the day Auburn’s defense was successful at limiting big plays from Smith, but two of his eight receptions were extremely difficult and critically important.
Smith came out on top in two different one-on-one battles with Auburn corners that swung the game in South Carolina’s favor. With 6:31 remaining in the third quarter, the Gamecocks’ standout outjumped an Auburn defender for a 10-yard touchdown reception that tied the game. Then on a critical third down with just under 14 minutes remaining in the game, Smith made a circus catch for a 32-yard reception that led to a field goal for the Gamecocks. That field goal gave South Carolina a 30-19 lead and really put the Gamecocks in control of the game.
Second half adjustments
In each of the last two weeks, the Auburn Tigers have jumped out to two score leads before their opponent has been able to put any points on the board. Also in the last two weeks, the teams that Auburn has been playing have come back to take the lead in the second half. Last week against Arkansas, Auburn was able to escape with a close and somewhat controversial victory. However, once South Carolina roared back to take the lead in the third quarter today, the Gamecocks did not give it back.
Auburn must find a way to put together strong starts and finishes to games if they are going to win going forward. The first four weeks of the Tigers’ schedule has proven to be a big challenge, and it is not going to get any easier. Auburn must develop the mental toughness to persevere through difficult stretches of games and the season at-large if they hope to compete this year.
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: [email protected] or on Twitter @z_m_shaw