10th-ranked Gamecocks set sights on Tigers

The 10th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks welcome the defending national champion Auburn Tigers to Columbia this weekend in a rematch of last year's SEC Championship Game.

Steve Spurrier is hoping for a different result, as Auburn cruised to a 56-17 rout in that title game in Atlanta. This is a new year though, and the Gamecocks have their sights on their own national championship. USC has looked the part of a contender early on with four victories, including a 2-0 mark in SEC play. The team kept its unblemished record intact with last weekend's 21-3 win over Vanderbilt.

The Tigers are 3-1 on the young season and 1-0 in league play thanks to a 41-34 shootout win over Mississippi State on September 10th. The nation's longest win streak was halted just one week later however, when Auburn fell to Clemson in Death Valley, 38-24. It didn't take long for Gene Chizik's squad to find the win column again though, with last weekend's 30-14 victory over Florida Atlantic.

Chizik is very much aware of the task at hand in Columbia this weekend.

"This is a great challenge for us this week, our first SEC road trip and obviously in a great environment. It's another tough environment to play in against a top-10 team, so for us it's going to be a great challenge."

This marks the 11th meeting between these two teams, with Auburn holding an 8-1-1 series advantage. The Tigers have won six straight meetings, including the two matchups a year ago.

With Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton no longer in the collegiate ranks, Auburn has taken an expected step back in terms of offensive proficiency. The Tigers are still moving the football to the tune of 373.8 yards per game, but now rely heavily on the play of tailback Michael Dyer to fuel the attack. Dyer has been sharp thus far, averaging nearly seven yards per carry (6.9) and leads the team with 426 and all of Auburn's rushing scores to date (six).

Quarterback Barrett Trotter isn't Newton, but the 6-2 junior has managed games well, completing 61.6 percent of his passes, for 783 yards and eight TDs. His top target downfield has been 6-2 junior WR Emory Blake, who has 16 receptions, for 317 yards and four scores. Blake has been a reliable playmaker and has a receiving touchdown in seven straight games dating back to last year.

The loss of Newton wasn't the only one that forced wholesale changes for Auburn. The defense took its share of hits as well, and the result is a unit in 2011 that is getting gashed for 477.5 yards per game. More importantly, the yards have resulted in 31.0 ppg for the opposition. The rush defense has been particularly poor, giving up 226.5 yards per outing on 4.5 yards per carry.

Senior safety Neiko Thorpe has been the most active defender thus far for Auburn, with a team-high 40 tackles. He is also responsible for two of the team's five forced turnovers, with an INT and fumble recovery.

Spurrier will try to take advantage of Auburn's generosity towards ball carriers, as he has one of the nation's best in Marcus Lattimore. The 6-0, 232-pound sophomore burst on the scene as a freshman in 2010 and hasn't let down since. Thus far, he has already amassed 611 yards (5.7 ypc) and is responsible for eight of the team's 12 rushing TDs to date.

Chizik knows the type of talent Lattimore is.

"He's everything that we saw he was coming out of high school. He's quick, he's fast, he has great vision. He really does a great job of cutting the ball back and seeing things a lot of running backs can't see, and then he can get there in a hurry. On top of that, he's an incredible threat coming out of the backfield in terms of throwing the ball to him."

Senior quarterback Stephen Garcia has not been as sharp, completing just 54.7 percent of his throws, for 684 yards and three TDs. He has throw an alarming seven INTs thus far and if he doesn't improve soon, it could make way for sophomore Connor Shaw to take over the reins.

Spurrier tried to squelch any quarterback controversy last week.

"We've never had a controversy. I'm not going to say anything about Stephen. Stephen is trying the best he can. That's all as a coach that you can ask a person to do."

Garcia's play is unfortunate considering he has one of the nation's best receivers on the outside in 6-4 junior Alshon Jeffery. In the first four games, Jeffery has just 14 receptions, for 246 yards and one TD.

Jeffery doesn't seem overly concerned about not getting the ball thrown his way much in the early going.

"It's not frustrating to me because whatever play is called, we're going to run with it. I'll take a win any day. I'm a team player."

The South Carolina defense has played to mixed reviews this season, but it hasn't cost the team in terms of wins/losses yet. The Gamecocks are giving up 25.8 ppg, but holding foes under 300 yards of offense (298.2 ypg). A lot of that is due to the team's ability to shut down opposing passing attacks (160.5 ypg).

The unit was dominant in the win over Vanderbilt, holding the Commodores to a mere five first downs. Senior end Melvin Ingram led the charge with a pair of sacks and amazingly his third TD of the season, recovering a fumble in the end zone.

Highly touted freshman end Jadeveon Clowny is another big reason for the squad's penchant for big plays. The 6-6, 254-pound youngster has 16 tackles to his credit and leads the team in both TFLs (5.0) and sacks (4.0) and has forced three fumbles. Senior linebacker Antonio Allen has been a force in the middle of the field as well. Allen leads the team in tackles (36) and has two INTs, three forced fumbled and three fumble recoveries to his credit in the first four games.