No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (5-0, 4-1) at No. 20 South Carolina (3-1, 2-2 ATS), Week 6 NCAA Football, Saturday October, 9th 3:30PM Eastern Williams-Brice Stadium Columbia, S.C.
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: Ala -8/USC +8
Over/Under Total: OFF
ESPN College Gameday will reside in Columbia, SC this weekend when the No. 20 South Carolina Gamecocks host the top ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama rolls into Columbia appearing unbeatable after demolishing a top 10 ranked Florida Gators team 31-6 last weekend. Alabama actually had that highly anticipated game with Florida won by the half and took their foot off the gas in the 2nd half. However, the Crimson Tide has to quickly turn their focus to this week’s match-up with South Carolina. The Crimson Tide know more than any that everyone is gunning to knock them off of the top spot and South Carolina has had two weeks to prepare for their big battle with the Crimson Tide which should make for an interesting meeting.
This game has been circled on South Carolina’s calendar for quite some time. The Gamecocks felt they like they had every opportunity to beat Alabama last year when the Crimson Tide was ranked #1. Alabama won the game 20-6, but Gamecocks had several missed opportunities including turnovers inside the red zone and a pick 6 that led to their demise. However, South Carolina is armed with the tools to challenge the Crimson Tide again this season and that loss from last year has fueled their motivation for this game.
The Gamecocks were beat by Auburn 35-27 in their last outing. South Carolina actually led by two touchdowns in that game before giving up 4 turnovers in the 2nd half and their defense simply tired out against the Tigers rushing offense late in the game. The defensive stamina will be a concern again for the Gamecocks rush defense. Alabama has the best power rushing attack in the nation by possibly the best running back tandem in America in Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Ingram has posted 355 yards in just 3 games while Richardson has racked up 419 yards on the season. Both backs are averaging nearly 8 yards per carry and have been nicknames “Fast and Furious.”
The Gamecocks rush defense had been pretty strong before the Auburn game so it will be interesting to see if they can hold up for 4 straight quarters. On defense, the Gamecocks have a solid pass defense that can withstand the Alabama passing attack. South Carolina has historically sported one of the best pass defenses in America over the last few seasons. While their numbers do not match on paper in 2010, they still have the personnel to play solid if they can just stop the running game. Alabama QB Greg McElroy is a great field general that can make some plays with his arms if defenses get to focused on the run. McElroy has thrown for 69% on the season for 939 yards, 7 scores, and 3 picks. The asset the McElroy truly provides is an experience leader that knows how to manage the game. He has the arm to make some big throws, but he does a good job of establishing ball control which is another reason Alabama is so tough to beat. They simply do not give opponents many extra chances by turning the ball over.
Speaking of turnovers, it has been South Carolina’s Achilles Heel. The Gamecocks have a balanced offense that likes to run the football, but also has a ton of talent in their passing game. QB Stephen Garcia is completing just under 70% passing on the year for 5 touchdowns and 2 picks. Garcia has thrown for 763 yards this season and has a big time playmaker at wide out in Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery is head and shoulders above the rest of the SEC receivers with 498 yards on the season. (Arkansas WR Greg Child’s is a distant 2nd with 298 yards) Jeffery and WR Tori Gurley are big guys that can give the Alabama cornerbacks a hard time in one on one situation. The problem will be up front on the offensive line. There may be no better team in the nation at getting pressure on quarterbacks than Alabama and the Gamecocks offensive front has been suspect to underachieving. Garcia has battled consistency issues through his career and was actually pulled after giving up 2 fumbles while taking a shot to the head against Auburn. Therefore, it is imperative that Garcia protect the football because turnovers against Alabama will equal a certain loss. If they can protect the ball and have time to spread it around to their big time wide receives, they could surprise the nation.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I was a bit surprised Alabama opened giving just 8 points because odds makers know that will draw a ton of action with the Tide. Therefore, I think they may be expecting a very close game which would not surprise me one bit. Remember Arkansas proved that the ball can be moved against Alabama in the air. If Garcia delivers and South Carolina avoids turnovers, they will have a shot to win this game. Even with that being said I think any play here is a dangerous one so I will stay away from the side all together. As sad as it sounds, sometimes passing is your best pick!