Scott Hood, GamecockCentral.com
South Carolina lost to Auburn, 35-27, Saturday night on the Plains of eastern Alabama. USC led after three quarters but four turnovers in the fourth quarter allowed AU to storm back. Here are five things we learned.
1. Alshon Jeffery Is A Monster, Part IV: How good can this guy be? Saturday night was yet another amazing performance by the Calhoun County product. He finished with eight receptions for 192 yards. With every catch he makes, the legend grows. Some of his receptions are downright insane. On one of his TD catches, Auburn tried to put a freshman cornerback on him. Mismatch City. Jeffery simply jumped up and caught the ball a few yards into the end zone.
Jeffery leads the SEC with 27 total receptions for 498 yards, an average of 18.4 yards per catch and 124.5 yards per game. The margin between Jeffery and the SEC's No. 2 receiver (Joe Adams of Arkansas) in average receiving yards per game is so wide you need binoculars. Sixty-nine of Jeffery's yards came on one reception in the third quarter. It was the second longest catch of his career.
2. Ellis Johnson Has A Lot Of Work To Do: Running quarterbacks have historically given USC fits and Saturday night was no different. The Gamecocks entered the game with the No. 1 rushing defense in the SEC, but their front seven was physically dominated by the Auburn O-Line. The result? 334 rushing yards by the Tigers. Johnson must find a way to turn things around before No. 1 Alabama comes to town on Oct. 9.
The Tide's offense is different in that QB Greg McElroy is not a runner like Auburn's Cameron Newton, but they are just as productive. Alabama features possibly the best 1-2 backfield combination in the country in Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and sophomore Trent Richardson, who is seventh in the SEC in rushing. Unless USC shows significant improvement defending the run, they have little chance of toppling the defending national champions.
3. Stephen Garcia Should Be Required To Carry Around A Football for a Week: Old-time coaches had a trick when a running back or quarterback experienced fumbling problems, they would require that player to carry around a football as they went to classes, ate lunch, did whatever. Garcia's two inexcusable fourth-quarter fumbles were a pair of daggers to USC's hopes of pulling off a huge road win.
The first fumble came moments after Auburn had missed a chip shot 23-yard field on the first snap of the fourth quarter. But Garcia gave the ball right back to the Tigers. Less than five minutes later, he failed to hold onto the football while being sacked near midfield. Auburn recovered and drove for the insurance TD. Of course, Garcia doesn't deserve all the blame for what happened in the fourth quarter, but his two fumbles gave AU the momentum when USC had a chance to mount long scoring drives.
4. Missed Extra Points Always Haunt You: Extra points only appear meaningless. Miss one and you feel the impact. The missed extra point by Spencer Lanning in the second quarter (it appears the snap might have been mishandled by holder Seth Strickland) following a six-yard TD catch by Alshon Jeffery played a role in how the rest of the game played out. It certainly impacted the play-calling. For example, when Auburn moved ahead, 21-20, midway through the third quarter the score should have been tied. Same thing when they went up 28-27.
And you don't even have to mention the final drive when USC trailed by eight points and had to score a touchdown and make a two-point conversion to send the game to OT. Of course, USC fans have seen this before. Missed extra points played crucial roles in the 2005 and 2009 setbacks to Georgia in Athens. At this level, little things like a missed extra point will get you beat. Saturday night, it helped lead to USC's demise.
5. Winning On The Road In The SEC Is The Toughest Task In College Sports: ESPN's Beano Cook might be senile now, but something he said years ago still rings true: the SEC is the toughest conference in the country because it's the most difficult to win on the road. Saturday night, USC found out again how true that statement is. Jordan-Hare Stadium was rocking.
The student section was jammed 90 minutes before kickoff. The Auburn band was thoroughly entertaining. The 80,000 or so Auburn fans watching the game chanted, sang and screamed all night long. Most of the cheers are coordinated. The campus there is dripping 'Old School SEC' with the many traditions surrounding a home football game. Each time I go to a place like Auburn, I'm reminded again of how important it is for USC to improve its pre-game presentation at Williams-Brice Stadium. During the game, it's fine. Pre-game? Needs work.