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September 27, 2011When Auburn travels to South Carolina Saturday in its first SEC road game, the Tigers' gameplan, at least on defense, is simple: Stop Marcus Lattimore.
The Gamecocks' sophomore running back is third in the nation averaging 152.8 rushing yards per game. He gains nearly six yards on average each time he carries the ball and has scored eight rushing touchdowns in four Carolina wins.
"He's explosive. He's quick. He's fast," said Auburn coach Gene Chizik. "He has great vision. He's just an all-around great back."
That includes being a threat in the passing game.
Lattimore, listed at 6-feet, 232 pounds, is second on the team in receptions behind only All-America teammate Alshon Jeffery. Lattimore has 12 catches for 139 yards (11.6-yard average) and a touchdown.
"He is an incredible threat coming out of the backfield," said Chizik. "He brings pretty much everything to the table."
Auburn sophomore middle linebacker Jake Holland has seen enough of Lattimore to know what type of running back the Tigers are up against. Holland saw Lattimore twice in 2010 as both played as freshmen. In 2011, Holland has seen a different look to Lattimore.
"He has gained a few pounds and seems to be more of a power back this year," said Holland.
Which poses a problem.
"Anybody that is 220-plus is hard to tackle," Holland said. "But it is our job to get it done. We are going to prepare for a good running back, a power running back, and our goal is to stop him."
If Auburn finds a way to stop Lattimore, it would be one of the few schools that have. This season, Lattimore rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns against East Carolina, 176 yards and a touchdown against Georgia and 246 yards and three scores against Navy. His lowest output came last week against Vanderbilt when he rushed 20 times for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Through four games this season, Auburn's defense hasn't shown it can stop the run, much less one of the best running backs in the country. The Tigers go into the game with the No. 112 rush defense, giving up 226.5 yards per game.
Things will have to change Saturday night in Columbia for Auburn to leave with the upset.
"He's a great back and on top of that the offensive line is blocking really well for him," said Chizik. "They are creating holes for him to run the ball through. They are physical.
"We are going to have to be physical up front. We are going to have to be able to get off blocks and play with our hands really, really well with our front four. Our linebackers are going to have to fit and we are going to have to drop enough people down in there to stop him."
Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT. CBS Sports will televise the game.
"It's another tough environment to play in against a top 10 team so it will be a great challenge," said Chizik. "But we are looking forward to that challenge."
*** While South Carolina has a running back Auburn's defense will be focusing on, the Gamecocks will have their attention on the Tigers' Michael Dyer. In four games this season, Dyer is averaging 106.5 yards, but has yet to carry the ball more than 18 times. Chizik said he hopes to get the Tigers' sophomore running back more involved.
"We have to run what we think the defense is giving us an opportunity to run, but when we get the opportunities to run the ball, we would really like to get Michael into a groove," said Chizik. "It would be huge. I think he is ready to assume that role."
*** After further review of the Florida Atlantic game film, Chizik said he continues to feel good about the defense's improvement from the Clemson game.
"We got lined up. We got people in the right spots most of the night, which was part of our problem the week before," he said. "I think when we had opportunities to make plays, for the most part we did. Being able to get three turnovers is big, and we need more of that.
"Our tackling, although at times it wasn't where we want it to be, got better. I definitely think we took a step forward defensively, but we have a lot of room for improvement."