COLUMBIA, S.C. — It was bound to happen and Saturday it did.
Alabama’s daredevil spirit finally caught up with the Crimson Tide. This time the parachute never opened and the reserve was never packed.
Ultimately, South Carolina out Alabama’d Alabama leaving the Tide with a 35-21 loss and some work to do if there’s any hope of a December rematch in the Georgia Dome.
And suddenly, Alabama is not the highest ranked team in the state when two-thirds of the polls that make up the BCS equation came out Sunday afternoon.
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Auburn’s late-game gambles with fate have yet to produce a negative outcome, so the potential for an iconic Iron Bowl is a real possibility come Thanksgiving.
Before any of that, though, Alabama will need to take a long look in the mirror after Saturday’s streak-snapper. No, there was no third-down riddle, fourth quarter drive or Robert Lester thievery that could steal the win or reverse the fate to which Steve Spurrier attributed part of the Gamecock win.
Of course football is a complex game, but the tangible reasons behind the outcome are quite simple.
Alabama could not continue surrendering the kind of yardage Arkansas and Florida piled up and expect to keep on truckin’.
There was no earthly way they could continue forcing the red-zone turnovers that kept the five previous opponents from scoring just two touchdowns in 14 trips past the 20-yard line. SEC offenses just aren’t as consistently clumsy as Arkansas and Florida were in the clutch.
South Carolina’s five touchdowns eclipsed the three total Alabama had allowed in the first five games combined as the Gamecocks and their supposedly helpless quarterback Stephen Garcia orchestrated seamless drives against the nation’s formerly top-ranked scoring defense.
On offense, the deficit led the playbook away from the pages with running plays as Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson turned into blockers and dump down options.
And when Greg McElroy threw almost anything besides a screen or a check down, receivers continued to struggle finding separation. That, in turn, led to some of the seven sacks that left McElroy’s road white jersey covered with grass stains.
The quarterback could be on the hook for some of the sacks and pressures too. Holding on too long and taking losses when throwing it seven rows into the seats was an option kept his numbers respectable, but dug the hole deeper at times.
South Carolina responded by playing Crimson Tide football.
The Gamecocks were intent on being the most physical team on the field (success), forcing crucial turnovers (see McElroy’s second-quarter fumble that turned into a SC touchdown) and it kept fed the ball to the playmakers (Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery combined to score all five touchdowns and account for 76 percent of the Gamecock yards).
Meanwhile, Ingram and Richardson ran for 64 yards combined as the Tide netted -1 rushing yard in the second half mostly because of McElroy’s five sacks in the final 30 minutes.
The seemingly easy win over Florida a week earlier just seemed to strengthen the perceived invincibility Alabama carried into every game.
Not so, said South Carolina and Ingram.
“Losing, it’s terrible,” the reigning Heisman Trophy winner said. “If you’re a great competitor and I love to compete losing is nothing that you ever want to experience. It’s definitely not acceptable in this program, but sometimes it’s something you have to deal with.
“You can’t show up and win just because you’re Alabama, just because you’re No. 1.”