COLUMBIA -- In Ellis Johnson's two-plus seasons on the scene at South Carolina, the Gamecocks have regularly shown the ability to adjust on the fly to curtail however an opposing offense is attacking the team.
But USC's defensive head coach had never encountered Cameron Newton before. (And, really, Tim Tebow at Florida was the only comparable quarterback.)
Auburn's first-year quarterback had the Gamecocks on their heels from the time he took off for a 54-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He kept them on their heels until a 35-27 Tigers victory, one that included erasing a 20-7 deficit, was complete.
Newton accounted for 334 of the Tigers' 492 total yards, including 176 of their 334 yards on the ground.
South Carolina knew what Auburn would try to do with Newton. He would run. He would run a lot. He would run up the middle a lot. The lingering question is this: Why couldn't it stop him?
"A lot of it was we were out of position," Johnson said. "Then, when we were in position, I tell you what, we couldn't get him on the ground. I don't think it was fatigue; a lot of times, I just think it was poor tackling."
For starters, just go back and watch that 54-yard TD again. Newton fakes the handoff and takes off around right guard.
The fake caused safety Akeem Auguste, who would have been principally counted on to stop Newton, to move right and out of position. He couldn't turn and catch Newton.
Additionally, spur Antonio Allen took a terrible angle and overran Newton. He couldn't regain his footing enough to catch Newton, either.
If you're thinking that's just one play, well, there were plenty others just like it -- even if they didn't go for that many yards. South Carolina bit on the fake handoffs quite a bit. The times it didn't bite, the running back was actually the ball carrier.
It was an exercise in frustration and futility most of the night. Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn won the battle of coordinators, for sure.
"I just thought we were totally confused all the time," Johnson said. "We never looked like we were sure of what we were doing."
Even after the half, Auburn kept motoring down the field the same way it did late in the first half. Why not adjust?
Johnson said, really, the Gamecocks continued with the same defensive game plan from start to finish. He said it wasn't the plan that needed tweaking; he said the players simply didn't carry it out. Adjustments to help them comprehend situations only made the defense more susceptible to other things.
Johnson said Auburn's offensive line was "better than we thought." Head coach Steve Spurrier applied that to Auburn's run game in general.
The struggle dropped the Gamecocks to 11th -- next to last, and last being Vanderbilt -- in the SEC in total defense. In one night's time, South Carolina went from first to eighth in run defense.
Despite having virtually everyone back, the defense is in soul-searching mode during this week's open date.
Where does the 'D' go from here?
Well, for starters, it will be comforted to know there are no more Newtons on the schedule. Kentucky's Randall Cobb is sometimes used as a running quarterback, but he's much more athletic than physical -- and USC has seen him before.
No. 1 Alabama is next for the Gamecocks, on Oct. 9.
A lot of what Auburn does is based on misdirection and confusion. And it obviously worked in USC's case.
Alabama, by comparison, is a bit more simplistic in its employment of running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
"They're not trying to trick you," Johnson said. "They'll come right at you."
Alabama game time
CBS exercised its six-day window for the South Carolina-Alabama game, meaning it will watch this week's Alabama-Florida game before deciding whether it wants to take the Gamecocks and Tide for its 3:30 p.m. slot.
If Alabama wins, the game at Williams-Brice Stadium will likely be at 3:30 p.m. If Florida wins, the Gamecocks and Tide will likely play at 7:30 p.m. on either ESPN or ESPN2.
A "technical glitch" at the AP caused the Gamecocks to drop to No. 20 in its poll. South Carolina was originally rated 19th in the poll, but one voter's ballot wasn't evaluated correctly (last week's ballot was used). So, the Gamecocks are 20th and Michigan is 19th. … Several former and current players, as well as Spurrier and receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., attended Kenny McKinley's funeral in Atlanta on Monday. The team, which doesn't play Saturday, will return today to the practice fields.