Previously number one ranked Alabama has a difficult battle to get back in the national championship picture. Indeed, after the disappointing 35-21 loss to South Carolina in Columbia Saturday, the Crimson Tide has a challenge just to get back in the Southeastern Conference race.
Alabama played as if was going against Les Spurrier or Steve Miles, not Steve Spurrier. Spurrier had an exceptional offensive plan; the Gamecocks had their way with the Alabama defense.
The loss dropped Alabama to 5-1on the season, 2-1 in SEC games. South Carolina improved to 4-1 and is also 2-1 in conference play.
Next week is homecoming at Alabama with the homecoming parade at noon CDT Saturday, but the football game against Ole Miss from Bryant-Denny Stadium not until several hours later. The only thing known is that CBS will not televise Bama for a fourth consecutive week. The game will be on an ESPN broadcast, at either 5 p.m. CDT, 6 p.m., or 8 p.m. Official announcement will come in the next day or so.
Although when a team has won 19 consecutive games, as had Alabama; and 31 of 33 games, going back to 2007, as Alabama had done; and 29 consecutive regular season games, as Alabama had done; and 18 consecutive SEC games, as Alabama had done...
any loss is a surprise. But to be overwhelmed by South Carolina bordered on shocking.
The Gamecocks were a ranked team, 19th in the nation, and this was considered Spurrier’s best team. Also, since the schedule was announced, it was observed that this was a game that would likely be trouble for the Crimson Tide. Bama was playing its third game in four weeks on the road. Alabama was playing its third consecutive game against a ranked team.
Whether there are more losses to come is to be determined, but Alabama might as well get used to playing SEC opponents who have an open date to get ready for Bama. Every one remaining has that advantage, beginning with Ole Miss.
Alabama had allowed only three touchdowns all season. The Gamecocks scored five touchdowns.
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After a miserable first half, Alabama had every chance to get back in the game.
Stephen Garcia, the South Carolina quarterback, was the star of the game for the Gamecocks with three touchdown passes, but he opened the door for a potential Alabama comeback.
On the first play of the third quarter, with South Carolina holding a 21-9 lead, Garcia was unable to handle a high snap. Rather than fall on the ball, perhaps to have to punt it away later, but also possibly able to salvage the situation, Garcia threw the ball through the end zone for a safety. That cut the lead to 21-11 and meant South Carolina had to kick to Alabama, and the Tide got good field position on its first possession of the second half.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a day in which the Alabama offense was able to sustain. Bama drove to a first down at the South Carolina 29, but then the offense broke down. Tide quarterback Greg McElroy had a fine game statistically, completing 27 of 34 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns, but too often McElroy was caught with the ball in his hands. That was the drive-killer. McElroy scrambled for no gain, then was sacked for a loss. Even after a completion, the Tide had to settle for a Jeremy Shelley field goal, cutting the lead to 21-14. The 39-yard effort was his career best, and made it with plenty of room to spare.
That was a time when Alabama needed its defense to hold. It wasn’t to be. On a third-and-eight, Garcia completed a 13-yard pass to Alshon Jeffrey. Moments later, third and 10, Garcia to Jeffrey for 10. Another 10-yard third down pass and a 10-yard run made it first-and-goal at the one and Marcus Lattimore cashed the touchdown for a 28-14 lead late in the third quarter.
Alabama’s last play of the third quarter was McElroy being sacked, but the Tide opened the fourth quarter with a lightning strike. McElroy connected with Marquis Maze on a pass over the middle that went for a 51-yard touchdown and cut the South Carolina lead to 28-21.
The one shining moment for the Alabama defense was negated by a lack of execution by the Bama offense, and a special teams decision could also be questioned.
The good was Will Lowery making an interception when DeMarcus Milliner knocked the ball from Jeffrey’s hands at the South Carolina 37.
When McElroy hit Julio Jones for a 13-yard gain, followed by a five-yard gain on first down by Mark Ingram to the South Carolina 19, almost everyone expected the Tide to tie the game en route to a come-from-behind victory. Uh uh. McElroy scrambled out of bounds, no gain. McElroy sacked, loss of six. That set up what appeared to be a 42-yard field goal try by Shelley, but instead it was a fake.
Alabama back-up quarterback A.J. McCarron, he holder on the play, tried a pass to Ed Stinson, ordinarily a Bama linebacker but fullback on placekicks, and Stinson dropped the ball. It is debatable whether that play would have gained the 11 yards needed for a first down.
Alabama was finished.
At that point in a seven-point game, Alabama had missed a chip shot field goal, not attempted a makable field goal, and had missed an extra point. That’s seven points.
South Carolina put its foot on Alabama’s throat. The Gamecocks had a fourth-and-inches at their 35 and went for it and made it. After a couple of runs for another first down, Garcia hit Jeffrey on a 42-yard gain to the Alabama six. It was only a matter of three Lattimore runs for the touchdown to finish the scoring.
The game started with things looking very good for Alabama. Greg McElroy completed five passes and the Tide moved to a third-and-three at the South Carolina 17. But there things turned sour. A pass completion came up short of the first down and Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban elected to have Jeremy Shelley to kick a 32-yard field goal and give Bama an early 3-0 lead.
To say the lead wouldn’t last long is an understatement.
Alabama had one of the worst defensive performances since the first possession by Arkansas a couple of weeks back. The Gamecocks had a nice return on the kickoff with Bama kickoff man Cade Foster having to save the touchdown. From the 37, South Carolina took only seven plays to go the 63 yards. Star tailback Marcus Lattimore had a 24-yard gain to set up his nine-yard touchdown reception from Stephen Garcia and a 7-0 lead for the Gamecocks.
It wasn’t just Alabama’s offense and the Crimson Tide defense that were under-performing in the first half. Special teams were also having an off-day. Punter Cody Mandell’s first punt carried only 17 yards and the Gamecocks started a drive from their 36. Poor Alabama tackling was in evidence throughout the first half, and never at a more critical time than on a fourth-and-onbe from the Tide 32. Garcia, who had run a play for a 14-yard gain earlier in the drive, was trapped in the backfield, but slipped away for a six-yard gain and a first down at the Bama 26. On the next play, Garcia passed over a mistimed jump by Bama safety Mark Barron. Waiting for the ball was the SEC’s top receiver, Alshon Jeffery was able to make the catch for the touchdown and a 14-3 South Carolina lead.
McElroy probably waited too long to get rid of a pass from midfield, but he didn’t see the South Carolina defender closing on him and his fumble set the Gamecocks up at the Alabama 43. The Gamecocks took advantage. After an Alabama roughing the passer call on defensive end Luther Davis, Lattimore had a 11-yard run to the Alabama 15. Garcia again connected with Jeffrey, throwing over DeMarcus Milliner for the touchdown. With 13:52 to play in the first half, the Gamecocks had a 21-3 lead.
Alabama had a nice drive working to a first down at the South Carolina 15. McElroy had completed passes of nine yards to Julio Jones, 11 yards to Marquis Maze, and seven yards to Preston Dial. On first down McElroy connected with Dial again, an eight-yard gain to the South Carolina 7. Then Mark Ingram lost a yard, McElroy lost another, and Bama decided to settle for the field goal.
Unfortunately, Shelley missed the chip shot.
Alabama finally held South Carolina and forced a punt with about two minutes left in the first half and Maze made a fine return from the Alabama 31 to the South Carolina 41. McElroy continued hot, starting the drive with an 18-yard completion to Jones, followed by a seven-yarder to Dial to the 16 and another six-yard pass to Dial for six. On third-and-goal from the nine with just 38 seconds remaining until halftime, McElroy threw down the middle to Jones near the back of the end zone, and Jones hauled in the high bullet for a touchdown. Alabama had another kicking mistake, a bad snap, bobbled hold, and missed extra point kick left it South Carolina 21, Alabama 9 at halftime.
The Gamecocks would win the second half just as convincingly as South Carolina won the first half.