COLUMBIA, S.C. -Kenny Irons ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns in his return to South Carolina and No. 2 Auburn knocked away a last-chance pass to keep its unbeaten season alive with a 24-17 victory over the Gamecocks on Thursday night.
Along with Irons' ground game and their rock-solid defense, the Tigers (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) displayed a passing game that helped them take every snap of the third quarter.
Brandon Cox completed nine of 13 passes for 125 passes in the third period to keep Auburn moving and the South Carolina offense off the field.
On the opening drive of the second half, Cox hit Lee Guess for 12 yards on third-and-11. The quarterback later connected with Tommy Trott on an 11-yarder that set up John Vaughn's 24-yard field goal.
Then with the Gamecocks (3-2, 1-2) feeling good about holding Auburn out of the end zone, coach Tommy Tuberville took a page from Spurrier's book and stunned the Gamecocks with a perfectly executed onside kick. No South Carolina player was within 3 yards of the ball when it landed, and Jerraud Powers recovered for Auburn.
Cox came out firing again. He had an 18-yard pass to Taylor, an 8-yarder to Robert Dunn on fourth-and-6 and a 25-yarder to Taylor on third-and-21.
Irons finished the drive on the first play of the fourth quarter, scoring on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to put Auburn ahead 24-10.
Still, it took Auburn's defense to save this one.
South Carolina closed to a touchdown on Syvelle Newton's 25-yard pass to Jared Cook with 8:25 to go. Then the Gamecocks got the ball back one last time, driving to the Tigers 6. However, on fourth down, Newton's floater to Sidney Rice was batted away by Patrick Lee with 19 seconds left.
Auburn has won 19 of its past 20 regular-season SEC games.
For Irons, it was a much sweeter time at Williams-Brice Stadium than his last game here. He was on the Gamecocks' sideline watching the team's 63-17 loss to Clemson and clearly in coach Lou Holtz's doghouse. Irons decided it was better to leave than remained buried on the Gamecocks' depth chart.
Irons got going early. He had 38 yards on Auburn's first drive, finishing it off by stretching the ball over the goal line while caught in the arms of linebacker Jasper Brinkley.
Irons led Auburn to its other first-half touchdown. He had runs of 24 and 11 yards, and fullback Carl Stewart broke off a 20-yard run to the Gamecocks 7. Two plays later, Cox connected with Trott for a 9-yard touchdown pass and a 14-3 lead.