No. 2 Auburn 24, South Carolina 17
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)—It couldn’t have been a better trip back to South Carolina for Auburn’s Kenny Irons—he saw some good friends and showed his old school why it never should’ve let him leave.
The former Gamecocks back ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns as the second-ranked Tigers beat South Carolina 24-17 on Thursday night.
“It felt pretty good … a good feeling,” Irons said.
Even better, he said was that Auburn (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) picked up a critical victory that kept its unbeaten season—and its hopes to reach the national title game—alive.
With all that success, Irons barely thinks about the disappointment he felt in 2003—that ultimately led him to seek out Auburn—sitting behind younger runners like Demetris Summers on coach Lou Holtz’s depth chart.
“There are no hard feelings,” Irons said. “It’s all fun and games on the field.”
Still, Auburn needed a last-second defensive stop to get out of Williams-Brice with the a victory.
The Gamecocks (3-2, 1-2) rallied from 24-10 down. They drove to Auburn’s 6, but Patrick Lee knocked away Syvelle Newton’s floating pass to star receiver Sidney Rice with 19 seconds to go.
Along with Irons’ ground game and their rock-solid defense, the Tigers displayed a passing game that helped them take every snap of the third quarter.
Neither coach could remember a game where one team so dominated a quarter of play.
“I think that’s a first for me,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “I haven’t a seen a game where one team had it for the entire quarter.”
Brandon Cox completed nine of 13 passes for 125 yards in the third to keep Auburn moving and the South Carolina offense off the field.
On the opening drive of the second half, Cox hit Lee Guess for 12 yards on third-and-11. The quarterback later connected with Tommy Trott on an 11-yarder that set up John Vaughn’s 24-yard field goal.
Then with the Gamecocks feeling good about holding Auburn out of the end zone, coach Tommy Tuberville took a page from Spurrier’s book and stunned the Gamecocks with a perfectly executed onside kick. No South Carolina player was within 3 yards of the ball when it landed, and Jerraud Powers recovered for Auburn.
Cox came out firing again. He had an 18-yard pass to Taylor, an 8-yarder to Robert Dunn on fourth-and-6 and a 25-yarder to Taylor on third-and-21.
Irons finished the drive on the first play of the fourth quarter, scoring on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to put Auburn ahead 24-10.
Tuberville said Cox had one bad pass in the game.
“We’ve got to throw the ball more. We know that,” Tuberville said.
Auburn’s defense made sure the offensive effort held up.
South Carolina closed to a touchdown on Syvelle Newton’s 25-yard pass to Jared Cook with 8:25 to go.
It looked like the Gamecocks had the tying touchdown on their final drive, but Newton’s perfect pass bounced off Cook’s hands as he crossed into the end zone.
On fourth down, Newton tried to find Rice, who set a school record with five TD catches a week earlier against Florida Atlantic. But Lee was there to make sure Rice didn’t make the catch.
“It’s like I told the guys, we’re not good enough to beat a team like Auburn,” Spurrier said.
Auburn has won 19 of its past 20 regular-season SEC games.
For Irons, it was a much sweeter time at Williams-Brice Stadium than his last game here. He was on the Gamecocks’ sideline watching the team’s 63-17 loss to Clemson and clearly in coach Lou Holtz’s doghouse. Irons decided it was better to leave than remain buried on the Gamecocks’ depth chart.
When told of Iron’s performance, his brother—and Auburn defensive back— David was impressed: “Man. that’s unbelieveable,” he said.
Kenny Irons got going early. He had 38 yards on Auburn’s first drive, finishing it off by stretching the ball over the goal line while caught in the arms of linebacker Jasper Brinkley.
Irons led Auburn to its other first-half touchdown. He had runs of 24 and 11 yards, and fullback Carl Stewart broke off a 20-yard run to the Gamecocks 7. Two plays later, Cox connected with Trott for a 9-yard touchdown pass and a 14-3 lead.