Like a heavyweight prize fighter, the Alabama Crimson Tide were able to outlast the South Carolina Gamecocks behind a bruising running game and a stifling defense Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.
Despite entering the red zone three times on the night, the Gamecocks were only able to convert six points on two 2nd quarter field goals by Spencer Lanning. Meanwhile, Alabama rode running back Mark Ingram to a late touchdown, sealing a 20-6 Crimson Tide win. Ingram was the highlight of a powerful Tide running game that piled up 264 yards.
After the game, Coach Steve Spurrier said he knew that just field goals would not be enough to beat Alabama.
Spurrier said, “Obviously we couldn't score touchdowns. We had a lot of backward plays, a lot of penalties. They are a very good team and for us to win we had to play real smart and we didn't."
After surviving a furious start and finish to the first half, the Gamecocks were able to hit a 31 yard field goal as time expired in the first half to trail 13-6.
There were few bright spots early on for the Gamecocks, save for the outstanding return work of Chris Culliver. In the first half, he had a total of 81 kick return yards and was the Gamecocks best offensive weapon, returning kicks to the 44 and 41 yard line of Alabama.
Unfortunately, South Carolina could not capitalize on the good field position, netting only 4 yards on 11 offensive plays in the first quarter.
Alabama’s defense lived up to its high billing early on. On South Carolina’s second offensive play, Mark Barron returned an interception 77 yards for an Alabama touchdown. Barron made several nifty moves coming down the sideline before cutting back across the field and scoring, to the joy of the delirious Crimson Tide crowd. The Gamecocks quickly found themselves down 7-0 with 13:58 left in the first quarter.
Spurrier said, “We gave them one there early, which in a game like this one you don’t want to do.”
Although Alabama grabbed the early momentum with their interception, the Gamecocks had some early defensive thunder of their own. Shaq Wilson intercepted Greg McElroy on Alabama’s first third down attempt of the game and returned the ball to the Alabama 31. In its first test of the day, the Bama defense stiffened, and South Carolina went backwards after a sack and a personal foul on TJ Johnson. They were forced to punt after a 3 play drive that went for negative 17 yards.
Lightning nearly struck twice for the South Carolina defense, as Greg McElroy was intercepted on 1st and 10 after Alabama had driven to the Gamecocks 34 yard line. C.C. Whitlock was the culprit this time, but he was quickly stripped by wide receiver Julio Jones, giving Bama 1st and 10 at 39.
Alabama was able to convert this Gamecock mistake into more points, driving to the Gamecock 8 yard line before settling for a 25 yard field goal from Leigh Tiffin.
In the second quarter it was Alabama’s stable of running backs that took over. With a combination of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Roy Upchurch, the Crimson Tide was able to grind out yards with relative ease against a Gamecock defense that spent most of the first half on the field.
Ingram finished the first half with 147 yards rushing, while Upchurch and Richardson added 27 and 21 yards, respectively. However, the Gamecock offense finally had an answer of its own in the second quarter.
The first scoring drive for the Gamecocks was highlighted by a 52 yard pass from Garcia to Alshon Jeffery. Facing 3rd and long as they had been for much of the first half, Moe Brown had a catch and run for a first down to the Alabama five, but was injured on the play and had to be carted off the field.
Despite a scary moment, Brown was later reported to only have a concussion, and traveled with the team back to Columbia.
After the delay, the Gamecocks were determined t complete the fade route to Alshon Jeffery for their first score of the day, but were unsuccessful on three straight attempts, and had to settle for a Spencer Lanning field goal.
With a little over three minutes left in the first half, the Bama offense answered back, with a 10 play, 63 yard drive that ended in a Leigh Tiffin 35 yard field goal.
On this drive, Ingram started churning out a great chunk of his yardage, highlighted by a 54 yard scamper.
Amazingly enough, the Gamecock offense was not done for the half. Kenny Miles converted a 3rd and 10 with a 12 yard draw up the middle, and Stephen Garcia decided to get in on the rushing attack after that. The sophomore quarterback had runs of 12 and 21 yards to bring the Gamecocks down to the Bama 14 yard line. However, the Gamecocks were stopped short of a touchdown, and Spencer Lanning kicked a 31 yard field goal to end the half.
At halftime, Nick Saban stated that his team still had a lot of work to do. He said, “We gave up a big play, they got two field goals. Offensively we turned the ball over three times the first quarter, we weren’t able to throw the ball effectively and we’re going to need to get that fixed. We get the ball in the second half and we need to do a better job.”
In the second half, the Ingram show struck again, and the back rushed for 27 yards in the 3rd quarter and 73 yards in the final frame.
After initially trading possessions, the South Carolina offense came alive. Starting at their own 17, they drove to the Alabama 22. On 3rd and 10 Garcia hit Weslye Saunders down the far sideline for a first down, but the play was negated by a holding call, and the Gamecocks were forced to punt after an unsuccessful 3rd down.
Alabama’s special teams struck next with a long punt return from Julio Jones. After a long pass play to Colin Peek, the Gamecock defense came through with another turnover as Clifton Geathers forced and recovered a McElroy fumble.
The Gamecock offense once again drove deep into enemy territory, finally stalling at the Alabama 28 yard line with a sack of Stephen Garcia.
Spencer Lanning came up short on a 50 yard field goal attempt and the Gamecocks began the 4th quarter still facing a 7 point deficit.
The teams traded possessions before the Tide was finally able to deliver their knockout blow. Mark Ingram, true to form, began pounding the Gamecocks, who were finally unable to withstand the Crimson & White attack on offense.
Ingram finished the drive with all 68 yards of offense, all on the ground, capped off by a four yard touchdown run.
The Gamecocks made a valiant last stand, driving to the Bama 4 yard line before turning the ball over on downs. McElroy took a knee to run out the clock, and just like that, the dream of crashing Alabama’s homecoming was over for the #22 ranked Gamecocks.
Garcia finished the night 20-46 for 214 yards, and one interception.
Spurrier said, “We’re not doing a very good job of coaching him to throw it away. He made some good throws there at the end, he hung in there tough. Obviously the first play was a real bad one, that was a bad play. Our defense hung in there.”
In a game in which USC forced four turnovers, their offensive opportunities were hard to come by. The Gamecocks were unable to convert their turnovers into points, and failed to take advantage of opportunities against the #2 ranked Crimson Tide.
However, much can be said for the defense, which somehow withstood the constant pounding of Mark Ingram, who set a career high with 246 yards rushing. The standout back from Flint, Michigan also added two receptions for 23 yards.
Spurrier said, “Interesting game, even though they were running for a lot of yards we were right there. They’re a very good team, and for us to win we had to play real smart, and we didn’t.”
“Our guys tried hard, we’re proud of our guys.”