South Carolina could not do much with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton the first time around. He had 334 yards of offense in what his coaches and teammates consider his breakout game. Newton’s been through a lot since. A skyrocketing Heisman Trophy status, an investigation into his recruitment and, this week, a ruling from the NCAA. It seems reasonable that Newton’s “victory” in this week’s NCAA ruling would unburden him to play even better, but it’s impossible to know for sure. Newton has not seemed to be bothered by the investigation.
Keep Garcia healthy
Auburn has beaten and battered more than one quarterback this season. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley leads the SEC in tackles for loss with 20, and he leads the league in opposing fan animosity. Georgia fans will tell you Fairley took unfair liberties with several of his hits on Aaron Murray. None of that will matter Saturday, though. What will matter for USC is keeping Fairley away from Garcia, who is banged up (left shoulder, right thumb) from the Clemson game. If Fairley gets a shot at Garcia, it’ll be bad news for the Gamecocks.
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Beware the big play
The Tigers can strike fast in the running game or passing game. The key for South Carolina will be keeping Newton from getting long plays, like the 54-yard touchdown he had in the first quarter of the first meeting. On the flip side, the Gamecocks can make big plays with Alshon Jeffery, who Auburn could not cover in the first meeting. The Tigers pass defense has not gotten better since the first meeting, so expect South Carolina to take some shots down the field.
If the game comes down to a field goal, South Carolina will feel good about its chances. Senior Spencer Lanning has made 10 of his past 11 kicks. He and Auburn place-kicker Wes Byrum are tied for fourth in the SEC in field goal kicking. Each has made 15. Byrum on 19 chances, Lanning on 20. Byrum has not attempted a field goal since Oct. 30 and his long this year is 48 yards.
The superstars will be the difference Saturday, but it’s not uncommon in games such as this to see a relative unknown make a huge play. USC wide receivers Tori Gurley, D.L. Moore and Jason Barnes all have made a few catches this season. Tight end Patrick DiMarco is a red zone threat. As for Auburn, backup running backs Mario Fannin and Onterio McCalebb can score almost any time they touch the ball. Wide receiver Darvin Adams only caught four passes the last time these teams played, but he’s a threat.