COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina's offense played well enough to win.
And the Gamecocks might have done it if they'd ever touched the ball in the third quarter.
Clinging to a 14-10 halftime lead in a hostile environment Thursday night, Auburn spent the third period playing keep-away. The Tigers maintained possession of the ball for the entire period on their way to a 24-17 victory over South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"That's a first in my career," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "I don't know if y'all have ever seen a game where one team had (the ball) an entire quarter."
By the time South Carolina's offense finally began its first series of the second half, a four-point deficit had grown to a 14-point margin.
Auburn held on to the ball by executing an onside kick, making two fourth-down gambles and converting a third-and-21.
The Tigers led 14-10 when they marched 85 yards on a 17-play drive that took 8½ minutes off the clock. The Gamecocks actually held Auburn's running game in check during that series, but Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox went 6-of-9 for 81 yards.
South Carolina appeared to have a moral victory when it limited Auburn to a John Vaughn 24-yard field goal. After all, the Gamecocks still trailed by just seven points and had scored a touchdown on their last possession.
But they wouldn't get the ball back for about eight more minutes.
Instead of kicking off with the wind blowing in their faces, the Tigers flawlessly executed a pooch kick that Jerrad Powers recovered at Auburn's 48-yard line.
"It just worked," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Sometimes they do. I could also be sitting here explaining why if it didn't work. Good for television, but not very good for the heart."
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had a different reaction.
"We've got some guys who don't think very well playing special teams," Spurrier said.
South Carolina followed that special-teams mistake with a couple of defensive breakdowns.
Cox connected with Robert Dunn for an 8-yard gain on fourth-and-6 from the South Carolina 30. Five plays later, Cox found Courtney Taylor wide open across the middle for a 25-yard completion on third-and-21 from the 33.
Those two conversions allowed Kenny Irons to open the fourth quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal.
"That's just amazing, that we could keep the ball the whole third quarter like that," Irons said. "It just shows how well developed our offense is becoming."
SOLVING THE DEFENSE: South Carolina punted only once all night against an Auburn defense that hadn't allowed a touchdown in Southeastern Conference competition before Thursday.
"I won't say we surprised a lot of people," South Carolina quarterback Syvelle Newton said, "but I think a lot of people might have said we were going to get blown out before the game."
NEWTON'S PROGRESS: South Carolina may have lost a game, but the Gamecocks sure have found a quarterback.
Newton led the Gamecocks to touchdowns on two of their last three drives of the night. On its final series, South Carolina lost the ball on downs after marching to Auburn's 5-yard line.
The former receiver now has gone 46-of-73 for 652 yards with seven touchdown passes and two interceptions in three starts. He threw for 240 yards Thursday and also was South Carolina's leading rusher with 44 yards on 20 carries.
"Syvelle did a great job spreading the ball around to all the receivers," said South Carolina receiver Kenny McKinley, who had a career-high eight catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. "A lot of people think he's a running quarterback, and he really did the job. He really showed people."
COOK'S REGRET: South Carolina's Jared Cook caught his first career touchdown pass in the fourth quarter Thursday, but the redshirt freshman tight end couldn't stop thinking about the catch he didn't make.
The Gamecocks had the ball at Auburn's 34-yard line when Cook got behind Auburn's defense across the middle of the field. Cook was right around the goal line when Newton's pass went off his hands.
"It's killing me, I'm not gonna lie," Cook said, "but you've just got to get through it and play the next play and play the next game."
BOYD IS BACK IN TOWN: South Carolina tailback Cory Boyd returned to action Thursday after a sprained right ankle forced him to miss the Gamecocks' 45-6 victory over Florida Atlantic last week.
Sophomore Mike Davis started at tailback before Boyd entered the game on the Gamecocks' third series. Boyd rushed for 28 yards on five carries.
Boyd had hurt his ankle during a 27-20 victory over Wofford in which he tied a school single-game record with three rushing touchdowns.
ANOTHER BOYD GOES DOWN: South Carolina tight end Andy Boyd's history of injuries continued Thursday when he hurt his right shoulder on the first play from scrimmage.
The sixth-year senior had missed the Gamecocks' first three games of the season with a cracked bone in the same shoulder. Boyd also has undergone knee surgery twice during his college career.
HOT POTATO: One of the more bizarre plays of the season took place early in the second quarter.
South Carolina faced third-and-6 from Auburn's 13-yard line when Marquies Gunn sacked Syvelle Newton and forced a fumble. Gunn then gained possession of the ball and appeared on his way to scoring his first career touchdown.
Cory Boyd had other plans.
The South Carolina tailback caught up to Gunn, then grabbed the 6-foot-4, 268-pound defensive end and stripped the ball away from him. Boyd recovered the fumble to help give South Carolina a first down at its 40-yard line.
ETC.: South Carolina now has lost 20 consecutive games against teams ranked in the top five. The Gamecocks' last victory against a top-five team came when they defeated No. 3 North Carolina 31-13 on Oct. 24, 1981. … Even though Auburn held the ball for the entire third quarter, South Carolina still ended up winning the time-of-possession battle. The Gamecocks held the ball for 30 minutes, 20 seconds.… Auburn now owns a 6-1 all-time record in Thursday night games. … Auburn has won 18 of its last 19 SEC games. … Auburn went 3-of-3 on fourth-down conversions Thursday. The Tigers have converted all seven of their fourth-down attempts this season. … Auburn freshman tight end Tommy Trott caught his first career touchdown pass Thursday. … Auburn place-kicker Matt Clark ended his string of 16 consecutive touchbacks.