No. 22 South Carolina Gamecocks (5-1, 4-1 ATS) at No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, 5-1 ATS) Bryant-Denny Stadium Tuscaloosa, A.L. Saturday October 17th, 7:45PM Eastern
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
Point Spread: South Carolina +17/Alabama -17
Over/Under: TBA Thursday
The Alabama Crimson Tide has played behind the shadow of the Florida Gators all season in the SEC spotlight, but in reality the best team in the conference may very well reside in Tuscaloosa. A year after taking the SEC by surprise with a perfect 12-0 regular season record, the Crimson Tide is back on the hunt for a National Championship. Alabama jumped ahead of Texas in the polls this week to the number 2 ranking in America due to a dominating performance over the Mississippi Rebels who previously held the No. 20 ranking by a score of 22-3. However if Alabama wants to remain on the unbeaten path, they must withstand a tough challenge this weekend from a young talented South Carolina Gamecocks bunch led by none other than the Ole Ball Coach Steve Spurrier.
The Gamecocks reached their highest ranking of the season this past week at the no. 22 position after holding off the Kentucky Wildcats 28-26. South Carolina is actually just a deflection away from an unblemished record as well. QB Stephen Garcia had a pass batted down in the end zone on the final play of the game in their only loss to Georgia this season. The young South Carolina team was not expected to be this good, but have played well including a big upset over Mississippi when they held the number 4 ranking in America although they were likely a bit over rated at the time. The Gamecocks have battled back since their lone loss to an impressive 5-1 mark and is set to take on the big bad beast of the West in the Crimson Tide.
The Crimson Tide appears to be on a collision course with Florida for another SEC Title as they now are in full control of the SEC West Division. The Alabama offensive line may be the best group in the country. The Crimson Tide rank 11th in America in terms of rushing offense averaging 223 yards per game. The offensive line has paved some big holes in the tough SEC defenses allowing sophomore Mark Ingram to have a big season. Ingram has rushed for 659 yards through the first 6 games and 7 scores this season and over 150 yards per game in the last two outings. Freshman Trent Richardson has also been pretty effective with limited action. Richardson has posted 344 yards backing up Ingram along with 4 additional scores. The Crimson Tide will battle and quick South Carolina defensive front, but they have the ability to overpower the undersize Gamecocks with their run game.
The Gamecocks defense is talented all over the field, but their pass defense is extremely talented despite on the young guys on the field. South Carolina has allowed just 151 yards per game through the air meaning Alabama QB Greg McElroy will not have any easy throws. LB Eric Norwood is slowly starting to get the attention he deserves. The Gamecocks senior leads the SEC with 6 individual sacks while also posting 26 tackles, 2 picks, and 2 blocked kicks. Norwood stays all over the field and normally steps up on the big stage. The Gamecocks defense will need Norwood and all the guys up front to step up and play a stellar game.
The South Carolina offense has been a difficult unit to figure out. South Carolina has shown signs of improvement over the past few weeks, but they have struggled for the most part all season to score. Freshman WR Alshon Jeffery had a breakout game last week for the offense. The former USC commit that backed out and turned to the USC of the East caught 7 catches for 138 yards and 3 touchdowns. The offense has been waiting for one of their young wide outs to have a big game and give a bigger threat to the passing game and Jeffery may be the answer.
QB Stephen Garcia is a much better quarterback than he was a year ago completing 61%, 9 touchdowns, and cut the interceptions down to just 3 this season. Garcia will likely get plenty of opportunities to display his powerful arm this week against the Crimson Tide secondary. South Carolina has put a lot of attention to their ground game in 2009. Freshman tailbacks Jarvis Giles and Kenny Miles have the moves and speed to make big plays. However, it is not certain the two young guys will have as much success this week against one of the best defensive fronts they will see this season.
It will definitely not be any big surprise if this turns into a defensive struggle. Both offenses have not shown any extremely dominating numbers, but the defenses have played well for both teams. Alabama is big 17 point favorites to enter the game and rightfully so. The Crimson Tide has dominated on each side of the ball this season and there is no reason not to expect the same against South Carolina. However, considering how the Crimson Tide failed to put the ball in the end zone but once last week against the Rebels. They will now battle another tough defense which could have similar results and that makes the 17 points look awful good as the Gamecocks offense improves.
Jay’s Pick - South Carolina +17