AUBURN, Ala. South Carolina freshman Connor Shaw played well enough Saturday night to tighten the quarterback competition.
But not well enough to get the Gamecocks out of Jordan-Hare Stadium with a win.
Shaw's final pass was the No. 12 Gamecocks' last gasp, and it hit wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the hands in the end zone before bouncing into the arms of Auburn cornerback Demond Washington with 33 seconds left to preserve the No. 17 Tigers' 35-27 victory.
"That's the reason why I let it go, find No. 1 (Jeffery)," Shaw said. "You think he's going to come down with it. It just doesn't always happen like that."
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The Gamecocks lost their sixth consecutive SEC road game in front of 87,237 fans and fell to 3-1 overall, 1-1 in the SEC. It was Auburn's fifth consecutive win in the series; USC has not beaten the Tigers since 1933.
"I have to make that play," said Jeffery, who finished with eight catches for a career-high 192 yards and two touchdowns. "If the situation happens next time, I have to make that play."
Jeffery was not the only one with tough questions to answer after the game.
Starting quarterback Stephen Garcia threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns, his best numbers of the season, but fumbled twice in the fourth quarter. Garcia is 0-5 as a starter in SEC road games.
"We will give Connor more looks in there," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "He threw some good balls tonight. We had our chances. We had a lot of chances."
Shaw replaced Garcia midway through the fourth quarter. Both his drives ended with interceptions, giving the Gamecocks a four-turnover fourth quarter.
"It came down to the fumbles," Spurrier said.
That may not be giving enough credit to the Tigers' running game. The Gamecocks entered the game with the SEC's No. 1 rushing defense but could not hold up for 60 minutes against 6-foot-6, 250-pound Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and the league's No. 1 rushing defense.
Newton totaled five touchdowns and 334 yards of offense, 176 and three TDs on the ground and 158 and two TDs in the air. Freshman tailback Michael Dyer rushed for 100 yards on 23 carries in his first start, and Onterio McCalebb added 55 yards on seven carries. The Tigers rushed for 334 yards, the most against South Carolina since Florida gained 346 in 2008.
"We wasn't stopping it, so they kept running it," South Carolina defensive end Cliff Matthews said.
South Carolina's running game, which had been a bright spot, looked anemic in comparison to Auburn. The Gamecocks rushed for 79 yards as freshman Marcus Lattimore was held to 33 yards on 14 carries.
"They were real tough up front, and the linebackers were tough, too," Lattimore said. "It was real tough getting it going. We never did. Some of it was on me and some of it was on the O-line. We just have to correct the mistakes."
The Tigers (4-0, 2-0 SEC) beat the Gamecocks in much the same fashion they beat Clemson on the same field a week earlier, spotting South Carolina a two-score lead before storming back in the second half.
South Carolina led 20-7 after Jeffery's second touchdown of the game, which came with 6:16 left in the second quarter. After that score, the Tigers marched 76 yards on 12 plays and closed the gap to 20-14 on a 3-yard run by Newton with 16 seconds left in the half. Auburn took the lead back on its second possession of the third quarter, going 80 yards on 11 plays; Newton scored on a 4-yard run with 6:14 left in the third quarter.
South Carolina retook the lead at 27-21 on a 3-yard touchdown catch by Tori Gurley with 4:45 left in the third quarter. The score was set up by a 69-yard reception by Jeffery, the longest play of the season for the Gamecocks.
Auburn went ahead 28-27 on a 7-yard pass from Newton to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen with 13:35 left in the game and extended the margin to 35-27 with 6:23 left when Newton found Emory Blake for a 12-yard score.
"It's tough because we worked hard, and we could have beat them," Lattimore said. "We had opportunities, and we didn't seize them. They made more plays than us."