Heading into this year, South Carolina’s matchup against Auburn was viewed as one of the last hurdles the Gamecocks would have to jump in order to get to Atlanta at the end of the season.
If the Gamecocks had made it past Texas A&M and Georgia, they would be rewarded with a string of winnable games before heading to Auburn, SEC East crown in sight.
Now, after seven games, South Carolina owns a losing conference record and Auburn is the fifth-ranked team in the nation.
Also, the Tigers are out for blood after losing for the first time this season to now No. 1 Mississippi State, and to them, South Carolina is nothing but a tune-up game before No. 3 Ole Miss.
While No. 5 Auburn has plenty left to play for, the Gamecocks are now playing for pride. And what better way to attain that than to go into Auburn and top the Tigers?
“We have to approach it like we can play with those guys,” redshirt sophomore safety Chris Moody said. “Obviously they’re the No. 5 team in the nation and they’re really good, but we’ve gotta not see that. We’ve gotta see that they’re guys just like us. They’re going to show up. So we have to show up just like they do.”
Defensively, Auburn is led by sophomore safety Johnathan Ford and junior linebacker Cassanova McKinzy, who lead the team with 41 and 40 tackles, respectively. Ford also owns two of Auburn’s 10 interceptions this season.
The team’s 10 interceptions place them at 13th in the nation in that category, while South Carolina has picked off four passes this year, good for 91st.
The Tigers have also gotten tremendous production out of junior defensive lineman DaVonte Lambert, who was rated the top junior college defensive line prospect last season. Lambert’s five tackles for loss and three and a half sacks each lead the team.
“Their defense is good, too. I think that gets overlooked a lot,” redshirt senior quarterback Dylan Thompson said. “Their defense has got some good players. We just have to do our job as an offense, stay on the field and when we get in the red zone we have to score touchdowns.”
South Carolina’s offense seemed to be firing on all cylinders against Furman Saturday — especially on the ground where the team gained many of their yards.
Junior running back Brandon Wilds is set to return from injury against Auburn, adding depth to a backfield that averaged 6.2 yards per rush last weekend.
Although head coach Steve Spurrier has remained adamant about Thompson remaining the team’s quarterback, he hinted that sophomore wide receiver Pharoh Cooper could see time at quarterback if Thompson sustains an injury.
“I’m not so sure Pharoh wouldn’t play half the time, probably; give us a chance to run and throw,” Spurrier said. “Pharoh’s a pretty good passer too.”
But for the time being, Thompson will guide South Carolina’s offense into Auburn, looking for a chance to brighten an otherwise darkened season.
“We’re still looking for improvement,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully we can improve as we go through the season and finish strong. We’re looking forward to going over there, giving it our best shot and seeing what happens.”