Facing a Gamecock defense that loaded the box to stop the run, the Tide countered with a quick passing game that relied on wide receiver screens that tested the edges.
But, just as it did last season, the gas tank ran dry when it reached the red zone — scoring just one touchdown in four trips as South Carolina’s pressure affected quarterback Greg McElroy in crucial moments.
Forced to run 12 times, McElroy was sacked seven times and hurried on four other occasions.
“I think (McElroy) didn’t handle the pressure real well at times, but I think Greg did a good job out there,” coach Nick Saban said. “He got us in the right plays.”
The fifth-year senior still completed 27 of 34 attempts for 315 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
But the real story was the relative absence of a running game for the second straight week on a offense that performed “sporadically,” Saban said.
The heralded combination of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson combined for just 63 yards as the Gamecocks made sure last season’s meeting wouldn’t be repeated. No, there was no repeat of Ingram’s 246-yard explosion that catapulted his name into Heisman Trophy consideration.
But after a second straight game held under 50 yards, his shot at a repeat is fading fast.
“We just had to play physical,” Gamecock cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. “They have a pretty simple offense. We knew what we had to do. Auburn was a little more confusing but Alabama plays a pretty simple offense.”
For the Tide, there wasn’t a whole lot of confusion to play through Saturday afternoon.
The South Carolina defense didn’t throw anything at Alabama. It just executed better, Saban said.
McElroy, though, saw some wrinkles.
“We had a great week of study and I felt like I was in command,” he said. “I felt like I had a good anticipation of what they were going to be doing. Unfortunately, they do such a great job. They mixed and matched coverages, went against their tendencies a little bit and they were ready to play and we weren’t.”