Back runs for 246 yards in win
By Michael Casagrande
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Penalties, interceptions and continued red zone failure.
All set the table for an upset loss for second-ranked Alabama in a chilly Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night.
The difference — as it had been most of the season — was Mark Ingram and the devastating Crimson Tide defense.
Alabama’s bruising back piled up 246 yards on 24 runs as he carried the Tide to an ugly 20-6 win over No. 22 South Carolina. It was the second-best rushing performance nationally this season and one of the best coach Nick Saban said he’s ever seen.
“I tell you, if we had a whole team of guys who played like that, the sky would be the limit in terms of the heart and character that he plays with,” Saban said.
The sophomore eclipsed his career-high rushing total by the opening minutes of the second half of a game that saw the offense double its season turnover total. Fittingly, it was a Gamecock turnover that appeared as if it would provide the difference until a late Ingram touchdown finished off the scoring.
Mark Barron’s 77-yard interception return in the games’ opening minutes turned out to be the game’s only touchdown as both offenses struggled to finish drives. For Alabama, that is becoming a theme.
A week after settling for five red zone field goals, the Tide stalled out on its only two trips against South Carolina. Quarterback Greg McElroy was charged with four turnovers — two interceptions and two fumbles — but his bulky running back bailed him out for a second straight week.
Ingram’s first 200-yard game broke his career mark set a week earlier when the Alabama passing game failed to find its footing against Ole Miss.
When it came time to wear down the clock, Ingram lined up at the Wildcat quarterback and ran over and past the Gamecock defense. When it came time to cap the drive, McElroy tossed to Ingram who ran the final yards into the end zone for Alabama’s first red zone touchdown in two weeks.
After crossing the goal line, a visibly gassed Ingram was greeted by McElroy for the victorious walk back to the bench.
There were plenty of reasons to celebrate for the pair in spite of the sometimes rough overall performance. Alabama survived its first real scare since the season-opening win over Virginia Tech.
The new issue for Alabama was penalties.
A total 10 flags netted 113 penalty yards as kickoff and punt returns routinely involved some form of an illegal block. The Tide came into the game averaging 7.2 penalties and just 50 yards per game.
“When you do those kinds of things, you’re not playing winning football,” Saban said. “You might win the game, but you’re not playing winning football because you’re not playing with the kind of discipline and making the right decisions that will enable you to be able to continue to play winning football.”
Still, Alabama avoided the upset bug that has bitten nearly every top team this season.
South Carolina managed to put together a few quality drives on the Alabama defense that spent 31:43 on the field — six minutes more than average. Quarterback Stephen Garcia led the Gamecocks to 278 total yards and they picked up 19 first downs to Alabama’s 17.
But the Tide defense played the biggest when it mattered the most.
Its nine quarterback hurries and five sacks kept Garcia from finding any real rhythm as he completed 20-of-his 46 passes for 214 yards.
At the end of the night, pretty or not, Saban was happy to get away with a victory and a 7-0 record.
“I really think it’s a sign of a good team,” he said. “I’m really proud of my players for being able to go out there and earn this and play their way through it. You can say it’s winning ugly or what ever, but it’s still winning.”