AUBURN, Ala. -- After consecutive weeks of late-game woes, the Palmetto State has had quite enough of these Saturday night trips to the Plains.
A week after Clemson saw a second- half lead disappear here, No. 12 South Carolina was part of something similar. The Gamecocks turned the ball over on all four of their fourth-quarter possessions, and No. 17 Auburn came through with a 35-27 victory before 87,237 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"It was there to be won," USC coach Steve Spurrier said, "but we weren't able to."
South Carolina was up six with the ball early in the fourth quarter.
But Stephen Garcia fumbled on consecutive possessions -- with both of the fumbles turning into Auburn touchdowns. Both fumbles came on plays in which Garcia was trying to scramble for extra yards, failing to properly secure the ball.
"That killed our drives," Garcia said of the fumbles. "That killed our momentum. … We should've won. Turnovers in the second half just killed us."
Spurrier yanked Garcia in favor of freshman Connor Shaw. Suddenly, with six minutes to play and South Carolina down eight, Shaw was making his SEC debut in one of the league's most hostile environments.
Shaw led promising drives -- thanks in large part to the uncoverable Alshon Jeffery (eight catches, 192 yards, two touchdowns) -- but both ended in interceptions inside the Tigers' 15-yard line.
Auburn linebacker Josh Byrnes picked off Shaw at the 11, on a pass intended for tight end Pat DiMarco. (Shaw said he never saw Bynes drifting back into coverage.)
After USC forced a three-and-out and an Auburn punt, Shaw had the Gamecocks to the 18-yard line with 40 seconds to go. Shaw heaved a pass left, to the front corner of the end zone, toward Jeffery.
Despite being triple-covered, Jeffery nearly caught the ball. But he popped the ball into the air, and Tigers defensive back Demond Washington came down with it to seal the victory.
"You always think he's going to come down with it," Shaw said of Jeffery, "but it doesn't always happen."
Last week, Auburn (4-0, 2-0 SEC) went to overtime to get past Clemson -- even though Clemson held a 17-0 lead in the first half.
Saturday, South Carolina (3-1, 1-1 SEC) led 20-7 with 6:16 to play in the second quarter, after Jeffery caught his second touchdown from Garcia.
Like the Clemson game, Auburn scratched for points just before the half -- and that helped turn second-half momentum. Last week, it was a field goal. This week, it was one of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's three touchdown runs.
South Carolina, like the rest of the college football world, realized the Tigers' offense runs through Newton. But knowing Newton is going to run the ball doesn't mean you can stop him. It's a page from the Tim Tebow playbook, which is sort of interesting since Newton's career began at Florida.
Newton ran for 97 first-half yards and finished with 176 yards on 25 runs. Often, the whole stadium knew Newton was running up the gut. But he's adept at selling the fake handoff, and the Gamecocks struggled to bring down the 6-6, 250-pound quarterback.
"They found an itch," USC defensive head coach Ellis Johnson said, "and they just kept scratching it."
Through the first three games, South Carolina was tops in the SEC -- allowing just 59 yards a game on the ground. Saturday, Auburn chewed up 334 rushing yards. Newton also added 158 through the air on a season-high 21 passing attempts (16 completions).
In addition to Newton, freshman Michael Dyer had 100 yards on 23 carries. He picked up steam in the second half after an average first half that included a fumble.
"They were better than us today," USC senior defensive end Cliff Matthews said.
The Tigers' fourth-quarter touchdown drives were spurred heavily by Newton's legs. Everything else Auburn did was set up by the threat of Newton running.
Johnson said he suspected the Gamecocks' tackling was poor, and he said USC's defenders were regularly confused by new formations Auburn trotted out specifically for this game.
"We couldn't get key stops when we needed to," USC linebacker Shaq Wilson said.
In addition to Auburn's ability to run, the Tigers worked to completely shut down South Carolina's supposedly blossoming rushing offense.
Marcus Lattimore was held to 33 yards on 14 carries (2.4 per carry), and the Gamecocks had just 79 yards on the ground.
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