South Carolina’s big win over Alabama capped a No. 1 trifecta

Erik Campos, The State (MCT)

Josh Kendall, McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina buried 108 years of snake-bitten history and the nation’s No. 1 team Saturday.

The No. 19 Gamecocks built an 18-point lead and then alternated between giving Alabama chances to come back and taking those chances away before topping the Crimson Tide, 35-21, in front of 82,993 fans in Williams-Brice Stadium and a national TV audience on CBS.

The victory capped an improbable trifecta that saw the Gamecocks beat the nation’s No. 1 team in football, men’s basketball and baseball in 2010.

“I think it was just meant to be,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “Fate was on our side, to beat a No. 1 in all three major sports in 2010.”

Alabama (5-1, 2-1) had won 19 consecutive games and had not given up 35 points since Nov. 3, 2007.

“We have a lot of guys on our team that haven’t lost a game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “This is a lesson for everybody about what you have to do to prepare, what it takes to play with consistency in this league.”

The Gamecocks’ method was as surprising as the result. They scored five touchdowns against the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, two more than Alabama gave up in its first five games combined. South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC) gained 311 yards on 57 plays.

Quarterback Stephen Garcia bounced back from being benched two weeks ago to complete 17-of-20 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half as the Gamecocks built a 21-9 lead.

“I think we responded unbelievably to the questions that were asked of us, the questions that were asked of me,” Garcia said. “It was an unbelievable feeling. I’m not really sure how to describe the feeling, but it’s unbelievable.”

Sophomore receiver Alshon Jeffery was at the end of most of Garcia’s passes. Jeffery had seven catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns. It was his fourth 100-plus yard game of the season.

The Gamecock defense was as impressive. One week after allowing 334 rushing yards to Auburn and one year after giving up 246 yards to Alabama tailback Mark Ingram, South Carolina held Ingram to 41 yards on 11 carries and Alabama to 36 yards overall while sacking quarterback Greg McElroy seven times.

“Other than a couple little ol’ runs that had a little electricity to them, they never got the running game going,” assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said. “I think we basically stopped the run, which I did not think we could do. There was a never a time as we managed the running game that we didn’t feel like we had control of it.”

“We just had to play physical. They are a pretty simple offense,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. “We knew what they were going to do. We just had to stop it. Auburn was more confusing. Alabama, they were really simple.”

South Carolina led 21-9 at halftime but immediately gave Alabama life in the second half. The Gamecocks’ first play was a bad snap that resulted in a safety to bring Alabama within 21-11. Alabama closed the gap to seven points on its ensuing possession with Jeremy Shelley hit a 39-yard field goal to make it 21-14.

South Carolina responded with its biggest drive of the season, a 15-play, 82-yard march that took 7:55 and ended with a 1-yard touchdown run from Marcus Lattimore. That score gave the Gamecocks a 28-14 edge with 1:42 left in the third quarter.

Alabama scored on a 51-yard touchdown pass from McElroy to Darius Hanks on the first play of the fourth quarter to close the gap to 28-21, and the Gamecocks gave Alabama life on their next drive when a ball bounced out of Jeffery’s hands and into the arms of diving Alabama safety Will Lowery.

However, South Carolina stopped that Alabama drive when it stuffed a fake field goal attempt from its own 25-yard line. The Gamecocks tacked on another Lattimore touchdown from there.

As time ran out and Gamecock players celebrated, McElroy found Garcia and said, “We’ll see y’all again,” meaning in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

“I thought that was a pretty nice compliment from him,” Garcia said.

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(c) 2010, The State (Columbia, S.C.).

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