All good things must come to an end so they say.
For the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, that notoriety of being the nation’s best will be gone in just a few hours when new rankings come out.
A game South Carolina squad and too many miscues by Alabama led to a 35-21 defeat in Columbia for the Crimson Tide, who now no longer control their own destiny in an effort to win back-to-back national championships.
Alabama saw the nation’s longest regular season win streak conclude Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium as the No. 19 South Carolina Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 SEC) upset the Crimson Tide (5-1, 2-1 SEC).
“If you’re a great competitor you really don’t like losing,” Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban said afterwards. “This is a lesson for everybody in terms of what you have to do to prepare and what it takes to play with consistency in this league.”
After spotting Alabama a 3-0 first quarter lead, South Carolina reeled off 21 unanswered points to grab a 21-3 lead. Senior QB Greg McElroy, who lost his first game since the eighth grade, connected with junior Julio Jones on a 8-yard touchdown pass to trim the deficit to 21-9 deficit at half.
Alabama looked poised to get back in the game after tallying a safety and field goal early in the third quarter (21-14), but the Gamecocks went up 28-14 after chewing up close to eight minutes on the clock on a 15-play drive.
Down by 14, Alabama again clawed within a touchdown when McElroy (27-of-34, 315 yards, 2 TD’s) connected with junior Darius Hanks on a 51-yard touchdown pass.
Things looked even better when junior Will Lowery intercepted USC’s Stephen Garcia (three TD passes) on the following drive, giving Alabama the ball on the Gamecocks 38-yard line. Things, however, would get worse from there.
On a fourth down and 11 play, Alabama’s fake field goal attempt was not converted, as back up QB A.J. McCarron (holder) was unable to connect with defensive lineman Ed Stinson, who dropped the throw.
The miscue allowed the Gamecocks to get the ball back, and South Carolina scored one more time to take a two-touchdown lead and cement the victory.
“I was proud of the way our players fought back at the end of the game,” Saban remarked. “That shows a lot of character, but everybody has a lot to learn from this experience.”
What Saban couldn’t have been proud of or happy about was his team’s inability to run the ball (36 total yards rushing) or its less than stellar effort to defend the pass. Throw in eight QB sacks by the South Carolina defense, and you had a recipe for disaster.
Meantime, South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier earned his 107th SEC victory, breaking a tie for second with Ole Miss legend Johnny Vaught. Alabama’s “Bear” Bryant is the all-time leader with 159 league wins.
The mystery now will be how the Crimson Tide respond to their first loss since the Sugar Bowl (after the 2008 season) against Utah.
Will they take this loss as a wake up call or will they be feeling sorry for themselves?
An ever bigger question is just how much trust Saban now has in his young defense, which lost nine players from last season’s national championship squad.
Instead of taking a potential three points when they were trailing 28-21 with around 11 minutes to go in the game, Saban’s fake field goal attempt blew up on him. Was the fake a sign that Saban didn’t think his ‘D’ could contain the Gamecocks and get the ball back down only 28-24?
Lots of questions remain….perhaps we’ll get some answers next Saturday in Tuscaloosa?
Alabama returns home for Homecoming next Saturday when Ole Miss visits Bryant-Denny Stadium.
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Written by Dave Thomas