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October 1, 2011

USC-Auburn: Key battles

GamecockCentral.com breaks down the key matchups for South Carolina's game against Auburn. At what positions will the game be decided?

Antonio Allen vs. Michael Dyer
Dyer anchors the Tigers' ground game and can come at an offense in a variety of ways. Burly enough up top to pound linemen and linebackers, and featuring breakaway speed once he gets around the edge, cornerbacks always have to keep an eye on him. There's no doubt he'll get the ball - he has two well-over-100-yard games this year and leads the team with 426 rushing yards and every one of the team's six rushing scores. Allen, having an SEC Defensive Player of the Year-type season, leads the Gamecocks in tackles and takeaways, with 36 and five, respectively. At his roving spur spot, Allen could be asked to shadow Dyer (or Philip Lutzenkirchen, or Onterio McCalebb) as the Tigers attempt to get their speedsters and steady receivers in open space. Dyer should be the main target, though, since he's the most likely to get the most touches. Allen will have to slow him down, trip him up, tackle him or better yet, knock the ball out of his hands, if the Gamecocks want to short-circuit Gus Malzahn's tricky offense.
Jadeveon Clowney vs. Barrett Trotter
While it seems likely that Melvin Ingram will again start, Clowney will play and play often. He has become a vital part of the defensive scheme, with a simple assignment - rush the quarterback. Clowney superbly did it last week, knocking two fumbles from Larry Smith that USC recovered, one an Allen-to-Ingram connection for a touchdown. Facing Trotter, who has performed well in his first season under center, Clowney may be asked to charge early and often at the QB to get him flustered. While left tackle A.J. Greene is a senior and stands 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds, Clowney's first step hasn't been very limited by many he's faced yet. Knock Trotter out of his rhythm so the Gamecocks can concentrate on the short field, and USC's chances of winning drastically rise.
Stephon Gilmore vs. Emory Blake
I think it's safe to assume that every athlete dreams of making the cover of Sports Illustrated while growing up. Even with the dreaded front-cover jinx, that could be a pinnacle of a career. Gilmore did it last year, but didn't buy extra copies for his mother. What appeared was a piece of his shoulder, just enough so the "5" was visible on the garnet jersey, as Cam Newton took over the foreground following a smash-up of USC in the SEC Championship Game. Gilmore was beaten time and again in that game, and for him to get another shot at Auburn (even without Newton) seems like a perfect situation for him. While Gilmore has been up-and-down this year, he has improved over the past two weeks, against a Navy team not known for passing the ball and playing perfect man-for-man and intercepting a pass against Vanderbilt. He'll likely be seeing plenty of Blake, the Tigers' top receiver with 317 yards and four scores, today. While it's likely that Gilmore will be a top NFL draft choice at the end of this year, having a hefty highlight tape instead of NFL potential would help out.
Marcus Lattimore vs. Daren Bates
At right linebacker, Bates is second on the team with 33 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He knows that's good, but needs to be far better on a unit that is giving up an average of 31 points per game. While Auburn is particularly vulnerable to the pass, it also gives up 226.5 yards per game on the ground - and now has to stop Lattimore, just two yards off the leading rushing mark in the country. With the passing game struggling, Steve Spurrier has turned to his workhorse and Lattimore has delivered. He didn't break 100 yards for the first time all year last week, but had over 150 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns. He'll get the ball, especially as the Gamecocks aren't giving up on the passing game and will doubtless cast downfield at some point. Perhaps if Lattimore is able to blast through early holes for chunks of yards, the passing game will have a lead to play with and can find the cure.
Stephen Garcia vs. Stephen Garcia
Garcia will start at quarterback. He's the best option to win and the most experienced. But it is clear that his performance against Vanderbilt last week was an absolute stinker, and if it doesn't improve - well, that remains to be seen. Spurrier has been adamant that Garcia is the guy, but if he can't get his passing fixed, perhaps it will trigger a change to a new scheme. But it's a new week and a new chance, and Garcia does have another 3:30 p.m. game on CBS to draw on while preparing for another one. He must prove why he's under center. The weapons are there, and for what it's worth, Garcia has been good in the side-to-side passing game. Spurrier will throw the deep ball, though, and Garcia has to prove he can hit it. He also has to act like a fifth-year senior should and recognize when and when not to throw. USC has enough weapons around him to win even with a bad performance, but if he plays like everyone knows he can play, there will be no reason for the heart-pounding games that have defined the early season.

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