The Auburn Tigers are at the South Carolina Gamecocks this Saturday, and it will be a battle of teams looking to bounce back from losses. For the Auburn Tigers, it will be about playing for pride and ending the season strong with just two games remaining. Auburn has not been mathematically eliminated from winning the SEC West but it requires an extreme scenario that would create a six-way tie with Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M. It would require all six teams ending the season at 5-3.
Auburn leads the all-time series between the two programs at 10-2-1. Auburn had won eight consecutive meetings going into last season’s meeting. The Gamecocks won that contest 30-22 off three Bo Nix interceptions. The Gamecocks will see a different Auburn signal-caller, but one they have seen before.
Auburn at South Carolina Preview
Nix out, Finley in
For the rest of the season, Auburn will be without the much talked about Bo Nix. On a deep pass late in last week’s 43-34 loss to Mississippi State Nix injured his ankle. He would go on to play a few more series, but it was later revealed he had broken the ankle and would require surgery. It really had been a season of improvement for the third-year starter under first-year head coach Bryan Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. On the season, Nix completed 61% of his passes for 2,294 yards and 11 touchdowns. He really had become a catalyst for the Tiger’s offense. Enter T.J. Finley.
This will mark the first start for Finley, but he has been in this spot before. Last season as an LSU Tiger, Finley made his first collegiate start against the Gamecocks. He had a fantastic game completing 17 of 21 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Auburn will need that kind of efficiency Saturday night to get their seventh win of the season. That might not be easy with South Carolina having the second-best pass defense in the SEC. The Gamecocks on the season are giving up just 185.8 yards per game through the air. They are led in the secondary by Jaylan Foster who leads the SEC with five interceptions.
Establish the run game
To help Finley in this game, Auburn must get their running game going. They had early success against Mississippi State but only totaled 106 yards total. That has been a big issue for Auburn this season. They have not been able to find consistency with their rushing attack. That was supposed to be the strength of the offense this season with Tank Bigsby and Shaun Shivers in the backfield. It was looking to be a three-headed monster with the early season emergence of Jarquez Hunter, but like the rest, his play has been up and down as well.
The running attack will be vital because while Finlay is talented, he does not possess the playmaking ability that Nix does when a play breaks down. He also will not be as much of a threat in designed-run plays like Nix either. Bigsby will need to bring the play he did against Ole Miss when he ran for 140 on 23 carries. Rushing for just 100 yards on 31 carries the last two combined will not cut it for this Auburn offense to be successful. South Carolina has not been good against the run this season giving up 168.9 yards per game. They gave up 258 yards last week in a loss to Missouri, and 209 to Tyler Badie.
Before last week Auburn had gone six quarters of football without giving up a touchdown on defense. That was the second half against Ole Miss allowing just three, and Texas A&M got their only touchdown on a turnover by their defense. For most of the first half against Mississippi State, they looked to stay to form. Midway through the second quarter, Auburn was up 28-3, and then the Bulldogs offensive onslaught began. Mississippi State put up 40 unanswered points and shredded the Auburn defense for 487 yards. Quarterback Will Rogers had 415 of that with six touchdown passes as well.
The good news for Auburn this week is the Gamecocks do not possess the offensive attack that Mississippi State did. They are ranked 13th in the SEC in total offense and averaged 23.5 points per game. The only offense worse than the Gamecocks is Vanderbilt. South Carolina is a team that does like to run the ball and a big game would be big by Auburn linebacker Zakoby McClain who is fourth in the SEC with 84 tackles on the season.
Auburn at South Carolina Prediction
The Gamecocks will be looking to get a big victory at home to get their sixth win and get bowl eligible in the first year under Shane Beamer. The South Carolina crowd will be rocking on Saturday night and try to cause problems for Finlay and the Tigers offense. The run game will be pivotal for Auburn and Bigsby should have a big night. The Tigers defense should rediscover themselves and Auburn wins 31-10.