COLUMBIA, S.C. – Auburn is trying to teach all of us, but we haven't been listening.
Yes, the Tigers are young. Yes, Cam Newton is gone. And, yes, this team entered the weekend equipped with the worst statistical defense in the SEC.
But it also entered as a 3-1 team and unbeaten in the SEC.
Guess what? That same group of Tigers, fielding the same young players and the same stumbling defense left Williams-Brice Stadium with a win against No. 10 South Carolina and is still undefeated.
Maybe, we'll listen now.
It’s hard to believe, but that 16-13 win that literally came down to the final second – again – proves as much. It also proves that despite this team’s flaws, the Tigers have some of the best resiliency of any team in this league.
“This was a game that they willed to win,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “They willed that one.
“It wasn’t always pretty, as we’ve experienced in three other wins, but we beat a good football team tonight and that’s the third time we’ve beat them in three tries. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot of people out there that can say that right now.”
Sure, South Carolina made mistakes (four turnovers and seven penalties). The nine completions and two interceptions for Stephen Garcia will no doubt be brought up. Or the fact only two South Carolina receivers – Alshon Jeffery and Bruce Ellington – caught passes.
And they should be because Auburn was a major reason for them. Auburn’s defense pressured Garcia (getting three sacks). Auburn’s defense eliminated the Gamecocks’ other receiving threats. And Auburn’s defense shut down Marcus Lattimore.
The backbone of the South Carolina’s offense was broken and gained 66 yards. Chizik said the goal was to eliminate Lattimore from South Carolina’s offensive equation and his defense, which entered the game allowing an SEC-high 226.5 rushing yards a game, did that.
“We went into the game and said we gotta stop him,” Chizik said. “That happened tonight. We went into the game and said we really gotta do a good job with getting turnovers. That happened tonight.”
And how about that offense? It wasn’t much to look at for more than three quarters, but with 5:27 remaining, it was super cool as junior quarterback Barrett Trotter and the Tigers marched right down the field and scored.
It was a little unorthodox, but Auburn scored on the “Five delay” play that beat Alabama a year ago. You know, the one where Philip Lutzenkirchen springs free from the right side and is wide open in front of the end zone? Yeah, that one worked – again.
He fumbled and a review had to determine if he retained possession, so it eventually worked.
That entire drive summed up Auburn. Its back was against the wall and even with a band of youngsters, it converted three third downs, including the touchdown, to stun the Gamecocks.
“That’s something we pride ourselves in, is fighting until the very last play, until it says 0:00 in the fourth quarter,” said Trotter, who was 12-of-23 passing for 112 yards and two touchdowns. “We’re going to keep fighting until the end.
“All these guys that are old on this team have seen too many crazy things happen to give up in the first, second, third or even fourth quarter.”
You can add one more crazy thing in running back Michael Dyer going down with what looked like a rather painful ankle injury, but returning on the very next drive to play the rest of the game like nothing happened.
He even pulled a Lattimore, in Lattimore’s house, rushing 41 times for 141 yards and a touchdown.
That determination to refuse to stay out is what fuels this Auburn team. Dyer could have rested a series, but he didn’t. That is the attitude of a team that arrived in Columbia with people laughing at its defense and it left giving up just 289 to the Gamecocks.
This team is getting better; that's obvious now. But will the respect start to come? The Tigers don't know and don't care. They just feed off it.
“I don’t say it gets personal, but when you work 365 days a year and somebody tells you what you can’t do, you want to prove them wrong,” defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “That’s what we ended up doing tonight.