Auburn didn’t play its best football the last time out, and with not much time to prepare this week, coach Tommy Tuberville knows his team needs to get back on track quickly.
The second-ranked Tigers look to bounce back from a mediocre performance in their last outing when they visit Steve Spurrier and South Carolina in an SEC matchup Thursday night.
Auburn (4-0, 2-0) outscored Washington State and Mississippi State by a combined 74-14 in its first two games before a thrilling 7-3 victory over then-No. 6 LSU on Sept. 16. That win catapulted Auburn to second in the rankings, its highest since tying for No. 2 with Oklahoma on Nov. 13, 2004—the year it finished undefeated.
On Saturday, though, the heavily favored Tigers sputtered to a 10-0 halftime lead over Buffalo before the offense finally got going on the opening drive of the second half, capped by Brad Lester’s 4-yard touchdown run.
“Guys were expecting to be up 30-0 in the first quarter,” said Lester, who started in place of Kenny Irons.
Irons sat out with a sprained toe and ankle, quarterback Brandon Cox was slowed by a bruised left leg suffered against LSU, and defensive starters Jonathan Wilhite and Karibi Dede were held out as precautions.
Still, Tuberville thought the Tigers should have played better despite winning 38-7.
“When you don’t play with emotion, you don’t play very well,” he said. “And that’s part of the equation. You can’t play with it every week. You could tell even with the crowd, everybody was kind of still thinking about (the LSU game).
“We have to come back and get this one out of the way and try to get our legs back and get after it because we have a tough road game on Thursday night.”
Cox was just 6-of-10 passing for 134 yards with an interception Saturday, and has thrown for only 244 yards and no touchdowns the past two weeks. Following this matchup at South Carolina (3-1, 1-1), the Tigers host Arkansas and No. 5 Florida.
“We’ve got to open it up a little bit more,” Tuberville said Sunday. “We’ve got a three-game stretch with three very good conference games that’s going to force us to throw the ball more. But we can do that. We’ve got a good quarterback and our offensive line’s much improved.”
Irons, a transfer from South Carolina who led the conference with 1,293 rushing yards last season, is expected to return this week. Lester ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo, while freshman Ben Tate rushed for scores of 42 and 28 yards and gained 114 yards on seven carries.
Tuberville said the Tigers, still averaging nearly 30 points per contest, will eventually have the passing game and running game going at the same time.
“Sooner or later, we’ll get all of our ducks in a row,” he said. “We’re going to be a running team.”
South Carolina was a passing team Saturday, as Syvelle Newton tied a school record by throwing five touchdown passes in a 45-7 home win over Florida Atlantic. Sidney Rice set a school mark by catching all five TDs.
Newton is back under center again for the Gamecocks after playing receiver his first year and quarterback in his second season under coach Lou Holtz. In 2005, Spurrier decided to use Newton at quarterback, running back and receiver, but he hurt his Achilles’ tendon and missed about half the year.
Newton is 26-of-39 for 466 yards with six touchdowns and one interception this season.
“If they want me to play quarterback, if playing quarterback is my position and that’s what they want, then I have to get better,” Newton said.
The Gamecocks rolled up 492 total yards against Florida Atlantic, but Spurrier knows Auburn will be a tougher test.
“I think we played a little better,” he said. “We’re not sitting here saying we’ve got it made. We’ve got a long way to go to hang on the field with Auburn.”
The Tigers beat South Carolina 48-7 last season, and lead the series 5-1-1. This will be Auburn’s first visit to Columbia since a 23-6 victory on Oct. 4, 1997.
“South Carolina is going to come out fired up,” Auburn linebacker Steve Gandy said. “We whupped them up last year and they are going to be ready to play. We’ve got to win all of our SEC games.”