Despite putting up impressive statistics, No. 15 Auburn football fell to South Carolina after making a series of costly mistakes.
The 30-22 loss was the first loss the Tigers have suffered to the Gamecocks since the 1930s. Defensive penalties, interceptions and big drops all played a part in the defeat. The Tigers fall to 2-2 while the Gamecocks increase to 2-2.
Both of Auburn’s losses this season have come on the road, and its next game is a road game as well. The Tigers will have to put the loss behind it and build off the positives. But before we turn the attention to Ole Miss, here’s how each individual position graded out at the end of the game:
If it weren’t for three interceptions, Bo Nix would have had a fantastic game. However, those three interceptions were critical in Auburn’s loss. They led to 21 points, and Auburn lost by just eight. Nix kept competing and finished the game with 272 passing yards and 69 rushing yards. His completion percentage was only 51 percent, but that doesn’t account for his receivers’ drops or the times he had to throw it away. There are things for him to build on, but it was another poor road performance.
Running backs: C
True freshman Tank Bigsby had his second 100-yard rushing game in a row. Bigsby finished with 111 yards on 16 carries, averaging 6.9 yards a carry. He bounced off defenders and wormed his way through piles of bodies, popping out the other side to pick up several more yards. D.J. Williams also rushed for 17 yards and made two catches for 26 yards. There’s still improvement to be made to the run game as the offensive line searches for consistency, and the running backs are factored more into the game plan.
Tight ends: C
Luke Deal made his first career reception, adding to the list of tight ends who have factored into the passing game. Other than that and J.J. Pegues appearance on the failed two-point conversion, the tight ends were a lot less visible than in past games. John Samuel Shenker continued to hit the field as a blocker, where he helped open up a few passing lanes, but they were otherwise quiet.
Wide receivers: D
The wide receivers played a part in helping Nix accumulate 272 passing yards, but they also made some big drops that lowered his completion percentage and stalled drives. Wide receiver Eli Stove said there were just some communication problems and little details they have to fix. Stove played well for his first game back since he was injured against Georgia, but Seth Williams was held to four catches on 12 targets. Williams also tipped the ball that was intercepted. Anthony Schwartz had six catches for 59 yards as well as some drops.
Offensive line: D
To open the second half, the offensive line was called for a false start. The linemen also had several other penalties on that hurt the offensive. They did help give Nix more time in the pocket than past games, although that started to collapse as the game went on. Nix was sacked three times this game, and he had to make a number of plays on the run. Although players were back from injury, it did not seem like the best five has been settled on yet.
Defensive line: C
The defensive line put more pressure on the quarterback, getting hands in Colin Hill’s face, but it was not able to get arms around the quarterback, finishing with zero sacks. The pass rush is critical, and it’s something Auburn has tried to focus on, but it hasn’t led to many results yet. The line did improve its run defense, especially in the first half. It held the Gamecocks to 41 yards on 19 rush attempts. South Carolina was able to find some gaps in the second half and finished with 153 yards.
Once again, Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe led the team in tackles, finishing with 13 and 10 tackles respectively. McClain also made the team’s only sack, while Pappoe made the only interception. McClain and Pappoe helped stop the running backs who found any holes, and they made a few stops on pass plays as well. They seem to be trying to hold the defense together from the center.
The penalties were really what hurt the defense in the second half, Pappoe said. Two of those big penalties were on the cornerbacks. Roger McCreary was called for defensive pass interference twice, which moved the Gamecocks up the field. Several of South Carolina’s big catches were made right over the cornerbacks’ heads. Granted, the ones made by Shi Smith were just fantastic plays. Overall, the secondary held South Carolina to just 144 receiving yards. It also will improve when the pass rush is established. But the penalties were critical to the loss.
To add to the cornerbacks’ penalties, Smoke Monday added a facemask penalty and a defensive pass interference in the second half. Both penalties helped the Gamecocks on scoring drives. The safeties were also beat on several big catches. They helped stop the run, but they also missed some tackles and let the Gamecocks by. Jamien Sherwood finished with five tackles, and Smoke Monday finished with one.
Special teams: B
Like last game, kicker Anders Carlson had to score a lot of Auburn’s points. He kicked three field goals, all less than 40-yards, because Auburn couldn’t finish in the red zone. He made all three. He also had four touchbacks on six kickoffs, and the coverage team only allowed one 16-yard kickoff return. Aidan Marshall only had to punt twice but averaged 45.5 yards a punt. The Gamecocks’ only punt return went for just three yards. Bigsby had just one kickoff return and carried it 23 yards.
Auburn’s struggles in the red zone continue, and not all the blame can be laid on the players’ execution. Auburn relied solely on Nix and the passing game, rather than trying to get the run game going. Instead of making the famous defensive halftime adjustments, Auburn actually gave up more in the second half, which is becoming common for this 2020 squad. The clock management also left something to be desired.