SEC Championship Game: Auburn and South Carolina vs. Common Opponents

While they played each other, there are also other comparisons to be drawn between Auburn and South Carolina.

There is still a football game to be played this weekend, you know. Last year, in the run-up to the SEC Championship Game, we took a look a the common games between Florida and Alabama -- and when I say "we," I mean Year2 did it. Because it's now my team going to the Georgia Dome, I supposed it's my turn to slice and dice the numbers.

We don't have quite as much common data between the two as we had last year, in part because South Carolina and Auburn played each other. That cuts down on the number of common opponents by two. (South Carolina would have played another team from the SEC West to compare to Auburn's results, and the Tigers would have played another team out of the SEC East to measure against the Gamecocks' outcome.)

But it's still something that's interesting to consider as we move toward the championship game.

THE EAST

S. Carolina vs GEORGIA Auburn
165 Passing Offense 148
189 Rushing Offense 315
354 Total Offense 463
192 Passing Defense 273
61 Rushing Defense 81
253 Total Defense 354
0 Turnover Margin -1
W, 17-6 Score W, 49-31

Remember that South Carolina faced Georgia much earlier in the year, in what will almost certainly become known as the "Marcus Lattimore Game." It was pretty clear that the Georgia coaches were not entirely comfortable with Aaron Murray letting it fly until they had to be. Still, South Carolina allowed almost 100 fewer yards but also generated more than 100 fewer yards. So far, nothing to change your stereotypes. South Carolina has a better overall defense, Auburn has a better overall offense.

S. Carolina vs KENTUCKY Auburn
382 Passing Offense 210
90 Rushing Offense 311
472 Total Offense 521
349 Passing Defense 226
52 Rushing Defense 110
401 Total Defense 336
-4 Turnover Margin 0
L, 31-28 Score W, 37-34

Auburn faced Kentucky a week before South Carolina did, so this game might provide a little bit closer to a moment in time. Of course, South Carolina was also coming off the program-redefining win against Alabama, so take that into account. The truth of the matter is that, for all the attention that Stephen Garcia's interception in the end zone got at the end of that game, South Carolina lost to Kentucky largely because the Gamecocks couldn't hold onto the football. Another interception led to a touchdown earlier in the game, and a fumble near the end of the first half killed a drive that was in Kentucky territory. There's also a notable similarity in the flow of these two games: Both teams took a sizable lead against Kentucky only to watch the Wildcats rally; Auburn stopped the rally in time and South Carolina didn't. And notice that while Auburn did better on the offensive side of the ball against Kentucky, they also did a better job on defense.

THE WEST

S. Carolina vs ALABAMA Auburn
201 Passing Offense 216
110 Rushing Offense 108
311 Total Offense 324
315 Passing Defense 377
36 Rushing Defense 69
351 Total Defense 446
0 Turnover Margin +1
W, 35-21 Score W, 28-27

South Carolina played Alabama on Oct. 9, and Auburn faced them this past Friday. More caveats: This is obviously a rivalry game for Auburn, and Nick Saban pretty much had two weeks to plan for this game. (If you think he spent much time thinking about Georgia State, that's your right.) All the offensive numers are pretty similar -- basically within a rounding error -- though South Carolina once again wins our imaginary defensive game. We should probably point out that the biggest share of the Tide's offense against Auburn came in the first half, after which the Tigers largely shut down the Alabama attack. South Carolina was also at home for their more impressive win in terms of margin of victory.

S. Carolina vs ARKANSAS Auburn
190 Passing Offense 140
105 Rushing Offense 330
295 Total Offense 470
303 Passing Defense 428
140 Rushing Defense 138
443 Total Defense 566
-1 Turnover Margin +3
L, 41-20 Score W, 65-43

Auburn played Arkansas on Oct. 16, while South Carolina faced them Nov. 6. All the caveats in the world won't change the fact that, if the Alabama game was South Carolina's best of the season, this was inarguably the worst. The Gamecocks got annihilated in their own stadium, though one could point out that South Carolina limited the Hogs to 123 fewer yards despite Ryan Mallett being injured in the game against Auburn. And there's the turnover margin, which helped the Tigers win against Arkansas. Even so, the most fewer turnovers would have done for the Razorbacks in their game against Auburn would have been to make the game competitive, something that nothing short of two different teams showing up would have done in the Arkansas-South Carolina bout. The Gamecocks have looked like a different team since this loss, though we might never know if that's just because they haven't faced Arkansas again.

CLEMSON

S. Carolina vs CLEMSON Auburn
227 Passing Offense 203
95 Rushing Offense 221
322 Total Offense 424
190 Passing Defense 227
61 Rushing Defense 187
251 Total Defense 414
+3 Turnover Margin -2
W, 29-7 Score W, 27-24 (OT)

It's easy to forget that Clemson and Auburn played, because it happened so early in the season. It was Sept. 18, to be precise, while most people know that Clemson and South Carolina clashed this past Saturday. Because of the difference in time between the two games, it's probably wise to keep in mind that Clemson was just starting its season against Auburn and was already a mediocre team when South Carolina came to town. And Clemson's offense looked like a confused mess against South Carolina, though I suppose the South Carolina rejoinder would be that it looked confused because of the Gamecocks defense. At any rate, South Carolina took control of the game relatively early and never looked great but also only looked like it might lose the game for about the first quarter, while an Auburn team that has made a living off of cutting it close had one of its toughest games of the season. The ACC Tigers took a big lead, the SEC Tigers stormed back to take the lead, then Clemson tied the game, then we went to overtime, and then Clemson missed a second FG kick after a penalty to end the game. Neither South Carolina nor Auburn looked all that great on the field, but the Gamecocks did card the more impressive win on the scoreboard.

- - -

What does all of that tell us? Well, first, your initial thoughts that South Carolina likely has the better defense and Auburn likely has the better offense are pretty much confirmed. But we also have to keep in mind that no two games are the same, as the varying times of the season and the circumstances of each game show.

In the end, it's worth remembering that these two teams did play a game on the same field, and Auburn narrowly won that contest after the same kind of in-game decision-making and differing circumstances that distinguish each of the above games from one another. There will be another game played in the Georgia Dome tomorrow, and the one that wins that game will be called champions, no matter what their games against common opponents say about either team.

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