Offenses do the talking, but defense will decide SEC title

ATLANTA - The match-up doesn't have the national clout of Alabama vs. Florida the last two years. But there's enough star power to suggest this evening's SEC championship game could be as entertaining as Alabama and Florida at their best.

No. 2 Auburn (12-0), which is first in the BCS standings, has college football's most dominant player in quarterback Cam Newton; an offensive wrecking ball in tackle Nick Fairley; and a play-calling whiz in offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.

No. 18 South Carolina (9-3) counters with legendary SEC coach Steve Spurrier, who won five conference championships at Florida; a superstar running back in freshman Marcus Lattimore; and an intimidating wide receiver in 6-foot-4, 230-pound Alshon Jeffery.

There's also an encouraging regular-season preview for a measuring stick. Auburn rallied from a 20-7 disadvantage to turn back South Carolina 35-27 in late September.

And don't forget the hotness factor, either.

Auburn has never been hotter after overcoming a 24-0 Alabama lead and shocking its arch-rival 28-27 in Bryant-Denny Stadium last week.

The comeback was nothing new. The Tigers also rallied to overcome double-figure deficits against Clemson and Georgia.

"I think there's an advantage to that simply from the standpoint of the psyche of your team, knowing and believing that no matter what the situation is, we've got a chance to come back and win the game," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said at Friday's news conference.

The Gamecocks aren't lacking in confidence themselves. They have won their last three games by an average of 28.3, winning for the first time at Florida and thumping in-state rival Clemson in the process.

"We've played pretty well lately," Spurrier said. "We're on a three-game winning streak.

"I thought that was pretty good until I noticed Auburn is on a 12-game winning streak."

Unlike the last two years, both SEC teams won't enter the game with national championship aspirations. Nonetheless, the sold-out Georgia Dome shouldn't be lacking in atmosphere.

Gamecocks fans have been waiting for this since South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992. Auburn is only six years removed from its last championship appearance, but the last two years - distinguished by Alabama's return to the top of college football - probably seen like decades for the Auburn fan base.

If you don't have an impassioned rooting interest in the outcome, even the teams' weaknesses have potential entertainment value.

Auburn has the second-worst pass defense in the SEC. That's an improvement over South Carolina's.

Chizik says his team's last-place ranking in pass defense is not just an assessment of his secondary.

"Generally what happens is that's the only part that everybody else sees," Chizik said. "But you can go back and point to a pass-rush lane that was vacated . . . (or) It was a linebacker that was supposed to be in a window where the ball was thrown.

"So it's not a secondary problem. It's a defensive problem."

South Carolina's vulnerable coverage will be pitted against the most efficient passing offense in the conference. Auburn, which was victimized by big receivers like Jeffery during the regular season, must contend with Spurrier, whose strength as a play-caller is his ability to pinpoint and exploit coverage deficiencies.

The execution will be up to quarterback Stephen Garcia, whose health was in question earlier in the week.

"I think Stephen's fine," Spurrier said. "He bruised his shoulder in the Clemson game.

"He didn't do much until Wednesday, but Wednesday and Thursday he was throwing it pretty good. He should be close to 100 percent."

Garcia and the Gamecocks will have to keep up with an Auburn offense that leads the SEC in scoring and has scored 35 or more points in eight games.

"No defense has really shut them down," Spurrier said. "We thought we had played very well against them, and then later on we realized they're scoring that many and more against everybody.

"They're a very good offense with no weaknesses.'

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached a 865-342-6284 or Follow him at

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Comments » 2

1998VOL writes:


1998VOL writes:

Should be an awesome game. It's good to see two different teams this year.

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