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October 11, 2010Chances are, when the University of Alabama football team watches the game film from Saturday's 35-21 loss at South Carolina, the players are going to be pretty upset - not just from losing, but how they lost.
Give the Gamecocks a lot of credit. The offense probably played its best game since Steve Spurrier arrived and the defense reaped the rewards of making the Crimson Tide offense one-dimensional.
But in order to beat Alabama, just about everything had to go right for the home team, like quarterback Stephen Garcia having the game of his life, and it did. Combined with the Tide's lack of defensive experience, maturity and breakdowns in all facets of the game the Gamecocks pulled off the biggest win in school history.
If Alabama rebounds well, it'll want another shot at South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game and do a better job of taking care of business, especially with better starts.
But the Tide's road to Atlanta just got a lot tougher, and for the first time since Week 10 of the 2008 season a non-SEC team sits atop of the polls.
Here are the awards:
Play of the game: The longest gain by either team was junior wide receiver Darius Hanks' 51-yard touchdown reception. He and Julio Jones lined up together on the right side and when Jones turned to the outside the safety incorrectly went with him to leave Hanks wide open for his career-longest play.
Players of the game: Jones quietly had a very good game with eight receptions for 118 yards and an impressive 8-yard touchdown catch, and junior defensive end Marcell Dareus had eight tackles, including four for a loss and a sack.
Statistic of the game: Alabama was 0-for-5 in third-down conversions in the second half, while South Carolina went 5-for-8. The Gamecocks also went 2-for-2 on fourth downs and were 4-for-4 in the red zone (28 points) while the Tide was 2-for-4 inside the 20 (10 points).
Hit of the game: On third-and-3, South Carolina liked the one-one-one matchup of Alshon Jeffrey and freshman DeMarcus Milliner, but the cornerback did an excellent job of timing his hit to knock the ball out of the receiver's hands and to diving Will Lowery for the interception. Honorable mention goes to the local police force, which kept the field from being swarmed by celebrating fans.
Did you notice? Senior quarterback Greg McElroy set single-game career highs for completions (24), passing yards (315) and carries (12), and tied his career mark for attempts (34, Ole Miss 2009).
Here are 10 other notable things from Saturday's game:
The turning point: Although going for it on fourth-and-2 at the Alabama 33 in the first quarter (Garcia appeared to be stopped only to spin out of it and get the first down) was instrumental in South Carolina getting an early big lead, when Alabama pulled to within 21-14 early in the third quarter it had outgained the Gamecocks 208-140 and led in time of possession 24:36-10:47. After that point, running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson combined to have just one carry.
Explosive plays: Alabama made seven explosive plays and three big plays, which was on par with what the defense gave up, six and four. As a reminder, Saban defines a big gain as a run of 16 yards or more or a pass of 21 yards or more, and an explosive play a run of 13 yards or more or a pass of 17 yards or more. It's a trend that's clearly a cause for concern after averaging more than eight big plays the first three games and fewer than three against three SEC opponents. For the first time this season the Tide didn't have a big running play.
The decision to start C.J. Mosley: The guess here is that the coaching staff thought it was time to throw the true freshman into the fire as a starter, but Spurrier went right at him on the opening touchdown drive that only lasted seven plays. The center came out to block him on the 9-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Lattimore out of the backfield (which was legal as long as the pass was competed short of the line of scrimmage), but when South Carolina ran the same play later in the game sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower was there to stop it. Mosley finished with five tackles but broke up no passes. Sophomore Nico Johnson replaced him at weakside near the end of the game when South Carolina was trying to run out the clock.
The passing game: Largely overlooked was Alabama's impressive touchdown drive just before halftime, when after junior Marquis Maze's 28-yard punt return McElroy guided the offense 41 yards on seven plays capped by Jones' nice touchdown catch to take advantage of a size mismatch. He also started the drive with a great 18-yard reception over the middle. At one stretch McElroy completed 17 of 19 attempts, with one of the incompletions a drop and the other the ball he tried to pull back, leading Spurrier called for a review. Overall, he completed 79 percent of his passes, to eight different receivers and had two balls dropped. He was 4-for-5 on third downs during the first half, three for first downs, 1-for-2 in the second half, and 5-for-7 in the red zone.
Injury report: One gets the feeling the coaching staff would like to move up the bye week because the Tide is getting beat up. Jones came into the game with a bruised knee, but something else was clearly bothering him early on. Although he was grimacing after his second reception he may have hurt his left hand following his first catch while stiff-arming Stephon Gilmore, who was called for a face-mask penalty and also ripped his helmet off. Coaches started using Jones less on special teams (although that could have been planed due to the knee) and he also wasn't on the field for part of the two-minute drive. Redshirt freshman tackle D.J. Fluker left the game after landing awkwardly in the fourth quarter, possibly aggravating his hip injury, but he did walk off the field. Junior linebacker Courtney Upshaw appeared to sustain a thigh injury when fullback Brian Maddox caught his leg, yet he did return.
The seven sacks: The sack and fumble was the most damaging as South Carolina recovered and eventually scored to take a 14-3 lead. It was a blitz perfectly executed because sophomore guard Chance Warmack pulled to his right on the play-action leaving center William Vlachos to stop two players. Three times McElroy got sacked while trying to buy time. It worked on his 8-yard throw to senior tight end Preston Dial and sophomore tight end Michael Williams' 32-yard reception, but backfired during two failed red-zone possessions. As for the other three, senior tackle James Carpenter got beat, Richardson missed a block and McElroy stepped up with Melvin Ingram coming off Vlachos to notch No. 7.
Thrown at: Both Mosely and junior safety Mark Barron, who appeared to misjudge the ball on Jeffrey's 26-yard touchdown, had four passes thrown their way, of which seven were completed. Milliner got beat on the 15-yard touchdown, but the only other pass thrown his direction resulted in the interception. Sophomore cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick had three passes thrown his way, including Jeffrey's one-handed catch that resulted in a 45-yard gain despite his having good coverage and even grabbing the jersey. No passes were thrown sophomore safety Robert Lester's way.
The running game: For the second straight week the Tide almost completely holstered the pistol, which is surprising because it's had the most success running out of that formation. Ingram and Richardson had no carries out it in the first half, while Ingram had three for 21 yards in the second. The Tide ran seven times out of the wildcat for 24 yards, three times out of shotgun for 11 yards, and four times with McElroy under center for six yards. They combined for 17 attempts for 67 yards, which was two fewer carries than Ingram's average last year.
Special teams: For the first time this season Alabama looked like it every specialist was new. A low snap on the first punt led to a 15-yard kick by freshman Cody Mandell, who came back and had a 53-yard punt. On the 31-yard missed field goal Carpenter came running in at the last moment. The missed extra-point had a low snap, A.J. McCarron couldn't get the hold down and Jeremy Shelley missed to the right. The sophomore made a 39-yard field goal, but the fake field goal was not a good idea, especially on fourth-and-11 at the 25. Even if Ed Stinson had caught the pass he probably wouldn't have made the first down as South Carolina defended it well. Had Alabama made the missed kicks a field goal would have tied the game. Richardson was averaging 30.9 yards on kick returns but his longest Saturday was 31 as he averaged 23.7. Freshman kicker Cade Foster had two touchbacks.
Penalties: Alabama was flagged seven times with two declined, mostly for offside, but substitution issues were also problematic. The most costly penalty may have been defensive end Darrington Sentimore jumping early on third-and-10, with South Carolina converting the short distance to keep its 15-play touchdown drive alive. Senior defensive end Luther Davis was called for roughing the passer to help set up the Gamecocks' third touchdown. Officials missed a block to the back on South Carolina's opening drive, but Maze's sideline catch should have been ruled incomplete.