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It's hard to tease out how much of this game can be credited to great play by South Carolina and how much can be blamed on Alabama's mistakes. The Tide made plenty of mistakes -- a missed extra point, a missed field goal, a fake field goal attempt that featured the receiver dropping the ball -- but also ran into a team that was playing its best game of the Steve Spurrier Era. The win might actually be the best in South Carolina's 118-year football history.
It is certainly the biggest. With one fell swoop, South Carolina has reshaped the race for both the SEC East and the SEC West. Alabama still has to run the same gauntlet it always had to run -- games at LSU and against Auburn bookend November -- but has lost its margin for error. And Arkansas is back in the race with the next Alabama loss, depending on how the Razorbacks navigate their own schedule and how the tiebreakers fall.
As for that best game of the Spurrier Era: Stephen Garcia was almost flawless, going 17-of-20 for 201 yards and three touchdowns, his only interception being more of a great play by Alabama than a mistake on Garcia's part. (He did make one notable and almost significant mistake: Throwing the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety that cut the lead to 10 when he could have fallen on the ball instead.) Alshon Jeffery was on the other end of most of those passes, with seven catches for 127 yards and a pair of scores. Marcus Lattimore didn't break the Alabama defense's streak of holding the other team's leading rusher to less than 100 yards, but he came close enough with 93 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. And the defense sacked McElroy seven times en route to limiting the Alabama ground game to 1.2 yards a carry.
Not that Alabama's offense played poorly. The Tide actually outgained South Carolina by 40 yards. Greg McElroy was too slow to throw the ball at times -- is it too much to call those instances Garcia-esque? -- and was 27-of-34 for 315 yards and two touchdowns. (He also had a critical fumble that set up South Carolina's third touchdown, giving South Carolina a 21-3 lead.)
There were, though, coaching miscues. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson got the ball 17 times. Granted, it was hard to get Ingram and Richardson involved in the fourth quarter, as the game got away from Alabama. But there were more opportunities to use them earlier in the game. McElroy had already attempted 21 passes by the half, when there was still plenty of time to catch up with the ground game.
Then, there was the the fake field goal at the South Carolina 25 early in the fourth quarter. I can see both sides of the argument that I'm sure will play out for several days in the Alabama media and blogosphere. Nick Saban had watched his kicker miss an extra point and a 31-yard field goal; why not go for it instead of trying a 42-yard kick when you're down a touchdown to begin with? But an unsuccessful field goal was a momentum boost for the Gamecocks, who were reeling as the big halftime lead had almost evaporated. Again, this will be discussed more than enough for everyone involved over the next week.
But maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe the win that shook up the entire SEC and reshaped the national title race can best be summed up by what Steve Spurrier said after the game.
"It was meant to be."