This weekend, the Crimson Tide travel to South Carolina for its second SEC road game of the season. The game will kick off Saturday from Williams-Brice Stadium at 3:30 p.m. EST and will be aired on CBS. The Gamecocks are coming off of its bye week hoping that the extra preparation will give them an edge over the visiting Tide.
Alabama comes into the game currently 5-0 and will put their 19-game winning streak on the line against South Carolina. The game will be the 15th game in the series between the two schools. The Tide hold a 12-2 record against the Gamecocks, with a 3-1 record on the road in Columbia. South Carolina’s head coach Steve Spurrier is 0-2 against Alabama while at South Carolina.
With the Tide coming in, this will be the second time a #1 ranked team will visit Columbia, and the #19 Gamecocks are 0-4 in its other meetings with the nation’s top ranked team. While the numbers seem to be in Alabama’s favor this weekend, one man that won’t tell you that is head coach Nick Saban, who earlier in the week said, “This is probably the game that will define us more than any other game we play this year.”
Last season, the Tide struggled when the Gamecocks came to town until Mark Ingram took the Tide on his back and led Alabama to the win. As with that game, some fans see the game in Columbia as the Tide “trap game” and that if the Tide were to falter, it would be against South Carolina this weekend.
Coming into the game on offense, the Gamecocks’ success will come from three players. First, is freshman standout Marcus Lattimore at running back. In his first season, he has scored at least one touchdown in each game and has scored six touchdowns this season through the team’s first four games and leads them in rushing with 366 yards gained. With the skills of Lattimore, the Tide defense will have their hands full, especially if they want to keep their 39-game streak of not allowing a rusher over 100 yards.
The second player to watch will be quarterback Stephen Garcia, who had a career-best three TD passes in his last outing against Auburn. In that game, he also had his second highest completion percentage of his career, completing 15 of 21 passes for 235 yards.
For the year, Garcia has completed 69.1% of his passes, putting him second in the SEC. He has a passing efficiency of 161.6, which put him 4th in the SEC and 16th in the nation. While he has put up some good numbers this season, he has continued to have his troubles, which led to him being replaced late in the game against Auburn. Alabama’s main goal this weekend on defense will be to keep the game in his hands and take away the playmaking ability of Lattimore. And Nick Saban should have some pretty good schemes to put pressure on Garcia throughout the game.
If Garcia is to be successful in the passing game, he will need help from his star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery has had over 100 yards receiving in three of his first four games. He leads the SEC and is third in the nation in receiving yards per game, averaging 124.5 yards per game. He also leads the SEC in receptions per game this season with 6.8.
Overall on offense, with the success of Lattimore, the Gamecocks have led the SEC in time of possession, keeping the ball an average of 31:37 minutes per game. Also, South Carolina leads the league in red zone offense, scoring 93.8% of the time. To be successful, the Tide defense will have to finish each series strong. The Gamecocks lead the SEC in third down conversions, converting 26 of 47 third down attempts this season.
On defense, the Gamecocks have been equally consistent. In 2010, it has allowed 73 points and seven touchdowns. They are ranked 6th in the SEC in scoring defense, 7th in rushing defense, and 10th in passing and total defense. Its defense has had 12 sacks through its first four games, giving them the third highest average in the conference. Against the ground attack, the rushing defense has held opposing running backs to 128.2 yards.
This defense will be tested with both Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson on the field Saturday for the Tide. Both are easily the best running backs the Gamecocks have had to defend against. With their success, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy should have some good opportunities to pick on the secondary. The key to Alabama’s success on offense may depend on how fast it can come out this Saturday and put points on the board.
The Carolina defense has only allowed 29 first half points and only two first half touchdowns. Also, the Tide will have to finish drives on offense, especially if they get into the South Carolina red zone. The Gamecocks defense has only allowed opponents to score in 62.5% of its red zone trips. Players on this defense to watch are Devonte Holloman at strong safety and linebacker Shaq Wilson.
Holloman has been all over the field, racking up 26 tackles through the first four games of the season and forcing two turnovers. He ranks 19th in the SEC in tackles per game. Wilson, who missed the first three games of the season with an injury, had a big game in the Gamecocks’ loss to Auburn, making seven tackles and recovering two fumbles.
For the Tide, the strategy should be fairly simple. On defense, limit Lattimore on the ground and force Garcia or his replacement Connor Shaw to beat you through the air. Garcia will get the start at home, but should he struggle like he did late in the Auburn game, we could see Shaw on the field as well.
On offense, the Tide should just continue what they have done all season. Keep running the ball down opponents throats with Ingram and Richardson, opening the door for McElroy and Julio Jones to make some plays against the Carolina secondary. Even with Julio Jones not 100% healthy, the Tide receivers should have some good looks in the open field.