COLUMBIA — The COVID-19 scare that rocked the SEC this week was so worrisome that the actual football matchup was a minute concern.
But South Carolina cleared multiple virus tests and enters Saturday’s home game against No. 15 Auburn feeling upbeat after last weekend’s 41-7 drubbing of Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks have replaced the misery from an 0-2 start with confidence.
“Certainly, winning helps,” USC coach Will Muschamp said. “It makes the food taste a little better, your wife likes you a little bit more, it certainly gives you a better outlook on things.”
Auburn (2-1) beat Kentucky to start the season, then crashed to Earth when Georgia manhandled it, 27-6. The Tigers were gifted a win over Arkansas last week on a call that had the league’s coordinator of officials admitting his guys screwed up.
The Gamecocks have never beaten Auburn since joining the SEC in 1992. Here are four keys to a South Carolina upset:
Embrace the never-before
It’s always talked about because it hasn’t happened. USC is 0-8 against Auburn as an SEC member and has only beaten the Tigers once, a 16-14 win in 1933.
The Gamecocks should make that their rallying cry. Accomplishing any kind of first is the sign of an improving program. There is an argument, a strong one, that USC should be at least 2-1 right now.
They aren’t because of some really bad fourth-quarter decisions and a few more missed plays. But getting to 2-2 when the best-case scenario of USC’s first four games this season appeared to be 1-3? No discounting that.
It isn’t brain surgery. Auburn’s rush defense ranks 10th in the SEC with 155.3 yards allowed per game, and USC has Kevin Harris.
Harris is second in the conference in rushing and plowed Vanderbilt for 171 yards last week. Known as “The Bus” by his teammates, Harris is just the kind of SEC running back the Gamecocks thought they lost when MarShawn Lloyd was hurt.
Muschamp loves to run the ball and play defense to win a game, and he has that chance Saturday. Harris is effective, productive and if he’s on the field chewing up yards and the clock, Auburn’s offense isn’t throwing all over the Gamecocks’ struggling secondary.
Auburn has given up seven sacks this year. Georgia had three.
The Gamecocks have collected seven sacks this year. Defensive tackle J.J. Enagbare has three.
Enagbare should introduce himself to Bo Nix often on Saturday. Rudely.
Don’t tread on me
Auburn’s feature back is Tank Bigsby, a bruiser averaging 5.6 yards per game. He’s already drawing comparisons to former Auburn greats and is being touted as a future darling of the awards circuit.
USC middle linebacker Ernest Jones continues to toil in anonymity, fifth in the SEC in tackles and posting 13 stops last week. He’s an outstanding player who nobody talks about.
Remember 2009, when fourth-ranked Ole Miss came to Columbia and everybody was excitedly whispering about the jaw-dropping talents of Rebels quarterback Jevan Snead?
USC defensive maestro Eric Norwood silenced them all with a performance that screamed, “You do know I’m a three-time first-team All-SEC player, right?”
Jones doesn’t want or need the attention, but if it came to him, he wouldn’t give it back.
Auburn 28, South Carolina 21
Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.