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SEC Championship Preview: Auburn vs. South Carolina

2010 SEC Championship Game Preview and Prediction
     Auburn Vs. South Carolina

Auburn University

Students: 25,078

Head Coach: Gene Chizik (20-5 as Auburn’s head coach)

2010 Season Record - (12-0): Defeated USC on Sept. 25, 2010 by score of 35-27 in Auburn.

SEC Football Champions: 6 Championships, 7 Division Championships. Last Championship: 2004

University of South Carolina 

Students: 44,557 (29,597 Columbia Campus) 

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (44-31 as Carolina’s Head Coach) 

2010 Record: 9-3

SEC Football Championship:  0, 1 Division Crown and that was 2010.

The Championship Game itself:  South Carolina might be new to the SEC Championship game but the HBC has been there plenty of times so look to him to have some tricks up his sleeve.  Spurrier took the Gators to 7 SEC Championship games, winning 5 of them.  Auburn on the other hand has been to Atlanta twice of late (2000 and 2004) and are looking to secure a spot in the BCS National Championship game with a win on Saturday.  The pressure is totally on the Tigers and this should play out in the Gamecocks’ favor.

Let’s breakdown this game position by position and issue a prediction at the end…..

QB:  Quarterback’s  Garcia vs. Newton  As well all know, to get to the SEC Championship game you have to have good quarterback play.  Both Garcia and Newton have had great seasons.  Currently Newton is ranked #11 national and #1 in the SEC in rushing, averaging 111 yards per game on the ground.  Newton has racked Heisman worthy stats on the season, rushing for 1336 yards and 18 TD, and throwing for 2254 and 24 passing TD’s.  

Garcia, who is also having an All-SEC season has matured over the season, and became a Steve Spurrier type QB.  Heading into this game, Garcia has thrown for 2646 yards and 18 touchdowns.  On the ground, he has also rushed for another 6 TDs.  

Advantage: Auburn 

Running Backs:  Lattimore vs. Dyer, McCalebb & Fannin: The true freshman star Marcus Lattimore has been the driving force behind USC’s stellar season.  Lattimore has been the most productive running back in the SEC all season and should be first team All-SEC, and SEC freshman of the year.  Lattimore has rushed for 1145 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season, averaging 101 yards a game, which is second best in the SEC behind Cam Newton.  

Auburn will use a stable of backs to help open up the field for Newton.  Freshman Michael Dyer leads the running back crew in yards with 886 and 5 rushing TD’s.  McCalebb has rushed for 773 yards and 9 TDs and Mario Fannin has rushed for 367 yards and 4 TDs. 

Advantage: South Carolina  

Wide Receivers: Gurley/ Jeffrey’s vs. Adams/Zachery   Alshon Jeffery might be the best wide receiver in the SEC, hell the country.  What else is there to say?  He has had an impressive season racking up 75 catches for 1351 yards with 8 touchdowns.  He is currently ranked #5 nationally and first in the SEC in receiving yards per game.  Gurley has also had a nice season catching 39 passes for 384 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Look for the speedster Ace Sanders to be a weapon in the game as well.

Auburns’ wide receivers Adams and Zachery have been nice weapons for Newton.  If Newton can’t run, he will air it out, as we saw in the Iron Bowl last week.  Adams on the season has 41 catches for 692 yards and 5 touchdowns, and Zachery has 36 catches for 555 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Advantage: South Carolina 

Tight Ends: DiMarco / Cunningham vs. Lutzenkirchen –  The Gamecocks tight end position really took a hit when Weslye Saunders was ruled ineligible for NCAA violations but DiMarco and Cunningham have done a decent job filling in.  DiMarco has 13 catches for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns on the season and Cunningham has 7 catches for 92 yards.

Auburn’s tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen has 12 receptions for 119 yards and 5 touchdowns.  He is mostly a blocking tight end but will be a weapon in goal line situations.

Advantage: Even

The Boys up front – Offensive Line Comparison:  
USC’s offensive line has had its moments all season.  This unit has improved greatly under the coaching of Coach Elliott in his first year.  The past couple seasons the offensive line has taken a lot of flak after finishing 105th in sacks allowed last season and 91st in rushing offense.  This year the offensive line has only allowed 25 sacks and is currently ranked 58th in rushing offense.  Most Gamecock fans have noticed the improvement and are very excited that Shawn Elliott is a Gamecock. 

The Auburn offensive line has done a great job protecting Newton, only allowing 21 sacks on the season, which ranks  #3 in the SEC.  As for rushing offense, we all know what they have done to propel Newton as one of the top QB’s in the country (one of the best players mind you).  USC will have to get pressure up the middle to force Newton to make mistakes.

Advantage:Auburn 

Kicking Game: Lanning vs.  Byrum: Senior kicker Wes Byrum has had an excellent season for the Tigers; he is 15 of 19 for field goals and 62 of 63 for PAT’s.  Lanning has equaled Byrum’s numbers on the season, going 15-20 on field goals and 47 of 50 for PAT’s.

Advantage: Even 

Defense Defense Defense:  Defensive Line: The Gamecocks will need to stop Nick Fairly from having a career day, as he might be the best defensive lineman in the country.  On the season, Fairly has 51 tackles, 20 for a loss, 9.5 sacks and one interception.  USC found a way to contain him in the first game but he has gotten better as the season has worn on.

As a defensive front, the Tigers have done a great job of stopping the run; currently ranked #10 in the country in rush defense giving up on average 108 yards a game.  The Tigers have also been able to get pressure on the QB for most of the season, getting 30 sacks, which ranks them 5th in the SEC.

Fairly for the Tigers may be a one man wrecking crew, as the Gamecocks rely on all 4 down lineman to make big plays.  As a unit, the SC defense is only giving up 93 rushing yards a game, and have lead the SEC in sacks all season.  USC has 39 sacks on the season; Ingram leads the team with 8 and Devin Taylor is close behind with 7.5.  If USC has any chance of stopping Newton, the front four will have to play huge.

Advantage: South Carolina 

Linebackers: Marcus Lattimore said earlier in the week that Auburn’s linebackers were the fastest he had seen all season.  The player to watch out for in the linebacker core for the Tigers is Josh Bynes, who leads the team with 68 tackles.  Besides being a nightmare to block on the line, he has also accounted for 3 interceptions on the season.  

USC’s linebackers have had problems all season after losing defensive leader Shaq Wilson to injury earlier in the year.  The Gamecocks will look for Josh Dickerson to step up and have a good game on Saturday.  Dickerson leads the linebackers in tackles with 54 and 5.5 for a loss.  The Gamecocks will rotate in Paulk, Smith, Straughter and Dickerson to help slow down Newton.   

Advantage: Auburn 

Secondary – Cocks vs. Tigers:
Neither pass defense has been spectacular this season, but both have played well enough to get their teams to the Championship game.  USC pass defense is currently ranked 10th in the SEC giving up 245 yards a game.  They have improved over the last couple weeks but we all know how they played against Arkansas a few weeks back.  The difference maker in the secondary for the Gamecocks will be Antonio Allen, who has a monster game against Clemson last week.  The spur position will be the wildcard in the Gamecocks defense.  As for the corner, Gilmore will need to have big plays to keep the Tiger WR’s from having a big day.  Holloman, Swearinger, and Auguste will have their hands full at the safety position with the treat of Newton running and passing by them.  

If you consider USC’s secondary to be a disappointment for the season, then Auburn’s secondary has been a train wretch.  Auburn’s pass defense is ranked dead last in the SEC, giving up 255 yards a game.  In the first match up against the Cocks, Auburn’s secondary gave up 305 yards in the air.  You will see much of the same in this game, as Coach Spurrier will look to take advantage of the Tigers poor secondary.  The leaders in the secondary for the Tigers are Washington and Etheridge.  From the corner, Washington has 47 tackles and 2 interceptions on the season.  Etheridge has 59 tackles and 2 interceptions.

Advantage: Even 

What will happen:  
For once I am going to say I have no idea what might happen, but I have a feeling Carolina will find a way.

Prediction:  Gamecocks 34 Auburn 31

See you in New Orleans for the Sugar!

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