Fifth-ranked Tigers tangle with Gamecocks

Auburn, AL ( - The fifth-ranked Auburn Tigers will try to get back on track after a bye week, as they welcome the South Carolina Gamecocks to Jordan-Hare Stadium for an SEC bout on Saturday evening.

South Carolina came into the season with high expectations as the ninth-ranked team in the preseason poll but has disappointed at 4-3, including just 2-3 in the SEC. The Gamecocks had lost two straight to Missouri (21-20) and Kentucky (45-38) prior to their easy victory over FCS opponent Furman last Saturday, 41-10.

"It feels good to win a ball game," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "It wasn't a real pretty game, but we got us a win...and we're happy to get it."

In a battle of unbeaten SEC Western Division squads on Oct. 11, Auburn fell to Mississippi State, 38-23, for its first loss of the season in six tries and prompted a slide from No. 2 to No. 6. The Tigers had off last week but still earned a slight promotion to No. 5 after top-five squads Baylor and Notre Dame both suffered their first loss of the season.

"I definitely expect us to rebound in a positive way," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "I was a really good time for an off week."

Auburn has dominated the all-time series with South Carolina by a 9-1-1 count, which includes seven wins in a row.

South Carolina's offense has been stellar this season, putting up 35.1 ppg and 450.9 ypg while scoring on 27-of-28 red-zone drives.

Dylan Thompson has stepped into the starting quarterback role nicely this season by completing 61.3 percent of his passes for 1,839 yards with 17 touchdowns (two rushing) pair to only six interceptions. He has thrown for at least 200 yards and a touchdown in every game this season.

Thompson has the good fortune of handing the ball off to Mike Davis. The workhorse tailback has carried the ball 121 times for 662 yards and has scored eight touchdowns.

Pharoh Cooper (33 receptions, 426 yards, four TDs) and Nick Jones (27 receptions, 363 yards, three TDs) anchor a solid receiving corps.

The Gamecocks have not lived up to the hype this season because their defense has played poorly, allowing 31.4 ppg and 421.3 ypg, numbers than rank 13th and 12th in the SEC, respectively.

Skai Moore (43 tackles, fumble recovery) and T.J. Gurley (42 tackles, INT) are the top playmakers for an underachieving unit.

Auburn's offensive attack has been clicking this season, scoring 38.8 ppg while displaying a strong balance between the running (262.0 ypg) and passing (225.8 ypg) game.

Nick Marshall is one of the nation's best dual-threat options at quarterback, tallying 964 passing yards, 492 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns to go with just three interceptions. He tallied over 300 total yards in the Mississippi State loss, but he completed less than 50 percent of his throws (17-of-35) and tossed two costly interceptions.

"I think at time we've really been click," Malzahn said of the passing game. "Of course, at other times you can tell we've been a little bit off. It's just a matter of being more consistent."

Marshall's versatility has certainly aided the tailbacks. Cameron Artis-Payne is the bell cow with 126 carries for 664 yards and five touchdowns. Corey Grant (40 carries, 254 yards, two TDs) is also in the mix.

D'haquille Williams is far and away Marshall's most trusted receiving option, as he's more than doubled any of his teammates in receptions (31), yards (493) and touchdowns (five).

Although Auburn's defense was exposed by Dak Prescott and MSU its last time out, the unit has still been outstanding this season, yielding just 18.3 ppg and 333.7 ypg.

The defense has 10 interceptions, with Johnathan Ford, Jonathan Jones, Jermaine Whitehead and Trovon Reed all picking off multiple passes (although Whitehead is serving an indefinite suspension). Ford (41 tackles) and Cassanova McKinzy (40 tackles, 4.0 TFL) are the team's leading tacklers.