Auburn (12-0) vs. South Carolina (9-3)
Atlanta, Georgia – Saturday, December 4 4 PM EST – CBS
SEC Championship Game
Auburn vs. South Carolina II
The story here is South Carolina. A team with no real winning tradition in the SEC making its first trip to Atlanta with a coach who made a habit of this during his days in Gainesville. Which version of this team shows up? The answer to that question determines the outcome.
If it’s the “good” South Carolina team – the one that beat Alabama, had Auburn on the ropes on the road, and worked through the better part of the SEC East this year – this will be a very tight game. That team runs the ball with authority, makes big plays in the passing game, limits turnovers, and has a defense that imposes its will on the opposition’s offense. Stephan Garcia looks like a masterful field general in that version of the team as he doles the ball to Alshon Jeffrey and Marcus Lattimore.
If it’s the “bad” South Carolina team – the one that blew leads to Auburn and Kentucky and flat out didn’t show up against Arkansas until it was too late – they will get run out of the stadium like a Sun Belt opponent on homecoming day. That team doesn’t establish the run game and relies too much on Garcia’s arm and ability to read a defense which generally puts them on the wrong side of the turnover margin. It’s the South Carolina defense that doesn’t create pressure and allows the opposing offense to do whatever it wants.
Auburn’s presence in this game is immaterial to the outcome. If you’ve watched Auburn at all this year, you know exactly what to expect from that crew. Cam Newton will try to run the ball unless he’s stopped, in which case he’ll still play action fake and throw it deep for one of Auburn’s receivers to make a play. And the Auburn defense? They’ll give up points like Santa throwing candy in a parade early but will wear on the opposing offensive line. At some point in the second half, the dam will break and Auburn’s front will get through and bring havoc to the backfield. That’s what Auburn’s done for 12 games. No lead is safe and it’s never over until the clock hits all zeros.
So how will it go? I expect South Carolina to show up for this one and to come out swinging. However, they won’t be able to sustain it. The Gamecocks are far too inconsistent and while Auburn is far from a perfect team, they know what they are and how to exploit the oppositions mistakes. That will be the difference in the end.
Auburn 31, South Carolina 24