There’s only one thought any honest and reasonable Gamecock fan should have about South Carolina’s defense going up against a high-powered Auburn offense:
A Tiger rushing attack that is 13th in the nation with 262 yards on the ground per game facing a team that is 90th in the nation against the rush (181.7 yards allowed per game) does not seem like it will bode well for the Gamecocks.
Last game, South Carolina allowed FCS opponent Furman to gain 211 rushing yards in part because of the unpredictability of a dual-threat quarterback in P.J. Blazejowski.
Auburn senior quarterback Nick Marshall is a whole other level of dual-threat beast.
He is more of an out-of-pocket passer, which poses problems for opposing defenses. But he has seen less of his passes completed this season (55.4 percent) than last year when he hovered near 60 percent. His ability to run, however, remains as potent as ever.
Marshall is currently averaging 6.6 yards per carry to go along with 492 yards and four touchdowns.
Like the Gamecocks did against Georgia, another run-first team, they will stack the box to try and discourage the Tigers’ running attack.
“We’ll get a bunch of guys up there, see if we can slow ‘em down, see if we can stop ‘em,” head coach Steve Spurrier said. “They’ll obviously make some yards.”
Spurrier pointed to the fact that his team slowed down Georgia’s dominant rushing attack a bit. The difference between going against the Bulldogs and the Tigers, though, is that Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason was not much of a running threat.
Marshall can run it and throw it, so it will be difficult to contain both the quarterback and running back for 60 minutes. South Carolina’s defense will have to stay disciplined in covering the option plays that Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn loves to run.
Redshirt sophomore safety Chris Moody mentioned how difficult it is to contain the Tigers’ option plays, especially when they incorporate play-action passes out of them and burn opposing defenses deep.
As a defensive back, it's hard to be in position for run support, while also covering streaking receivers.
“I feel like (the play-action pass) will be a tough one,” Moody said. “You've got to be able to play all of them at once.”
Senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne isn’t quite putting up Tre Mason’s numbers from last season for the Tigers, but he’s been effective so far, totaling 664 yards on the ground and five scores.
For the Gamecocks, stopping the run is even more in question now because of injuries along the defensive line. Redshirt senior defensive tackle J.T. Surratt is doubtful for Saturday’s contest with a strained hamstring. Redshirt junior Cedrick Cooper missed last game with a nagging ankle injury and redshirt junior Mason Harris missed the Furman matchup with a bad knee. It is still up in the air whether those two will feel good enough to go this weekend.
Players like redshirt junior Michael Washington should be seeing extended action as he looks to build on a solid first performance against Furman.
Some good news for South Carolina is that true freshman Bryson Allen-Williams and sophomore Jonathan Walton are both expected to return from concussions in time for Saturday’s game, which will help out with the depth at linebacker.
Fans should expect the Gamecock linebacking corps to switch in and out regularly in order to stay fresh against Auburn’s fast-tempo offense.
And while the odds aren’t in South Carolina’s favor to stifle Marshall and company, the defense is coming into the game believing it can.
“You got to have the mentality we can go in there and win,” Moody said. “We got to compete and we just got to be ready to go play.”