As a part of SEC Championship Game week, we're taking a look at Alabama's and Florida's common opponents in alphabetical order. Now up: South Carolina.
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Alabama got the Gamecocks a week after going to Oxford and ending the SEC West hopes of Ole Miss 22-3. This contest ended up being the middle link of Bama's three-game nadir in October, as South Carolina held the Tide to their second lowest point total this season. It seemed like the only person on Alabama's offense who came ready to play was Mark Ingram, as he had his finest game in going for 246 yards and about single-handedly beat Steve Spurrier's crew. Despite getting only a pair of second quarter field goals, Carolina was never truly out of it until Ingram iced it with a touchdown run with five minutes to go.
South Carolina was similarly able to hang around for a long time with Florida when the Gators came to visit Columbia in their SEC regular season finale. Even though the Gamecocks ended up gaining fewer yards on UF than on Bama, they had more success on the UF defense. Stephen Garcia led two long touchdown drives that were decidedly non-flukey in nature, the result of good game planning and execution. With Carolina down just 17-14 and driving at the start of the fourth quarter, a Garcia pass got tipped up and intercepted by Justin Trattou and it was returned 53 yards. Tim Tebow promptly capitalized with a one yard TD plunge, and the deflated home team couldn't mount a comeback.
The word that comes to mind most readily for Alabama's game is "malaise." Neither offense really looked like it knew what it was doing, while the defenses for the most part teed off. I say "for the most part" because Ingram sliced and diced the Gamecock defense like a fine rotisserie bird. Seriously: guys not named Ingram for Bama combined for 110 total yards and an average of 3.24 yards per play. The final scoring drive was a tour de force for the star of the game, as he took a number of direct snaps and made about all the yardage himself. This game is why Ingram has been in the Heisman race for much of the second half of the season.
Florida's game had the looks of a shootout early, as the teams combined to score on five of the game's first ten possessions, and a sixth was a missed field goal. It would have been an honest shootout too: every scoring drive was at least 61 yards long, and three were 70 or more yards. Things quieted down though, but Caleb Sturgis' inaccuracy kept South Carolina in it as the UF kicker missed three field goals (though two from 50+ yards) on the night. Florida's defense took over in the second half, as five of Carolina's six second half drives amounted to -21 net yards. The sixth was a 49 yard drive, more or less the final stand for Garcia and company, but it ended with Trattou's game changing interception and return.
It's difficult to say which team had the better showing. Alabama's defense did a better job overall, keeping Carolina's scoring down to just a pair of field goals while allowing a negligible amount of yards more than Florida's did. The Gator offense did better though as it scored more points, could have had more points with field goal makes instead of misses, and didn't require a superhuman effort by a single player.
Still, the outcome of Bama's game never felt in too much doubt. Carolina managed a single drive of more than 50 yards against the Tide and didn't appear capable of mounting a credible threat for much of the game. By contrast, Spurrier and Garcia put together a couple of good drives in the first half, and they were doing it again in the second half when Trattou snared his fateful interception.
Better performance: Alabamaby a hair, with a gold star for Ingram.