October 08, 2010
Alabama may look unbeatable after last week's demolition of Florida. But Saturday's trip to South Carolina may be as dangerous a venture as the Tide make the rest of the season. And as everybody knows, there's always a chance:
• It's a trap! South Carolina is coming off one of those pre-Alabama bye weeks, and catches the Tide at the end of a rough stretch against three ranked teams in four weeks. ESPN's stats department was able to track down six examples since the dawn of the Associated Press poll of the No. 1 team beating a top-10 opponent at home one week and visiting another ranked team the next; in five of those six, No. 1 dropped the second game, most recently in 2007 (LSU at Kentucky after beating Florida) and 2008 (Texas at Texas Tech, after beating Oklahoma State). The only exception was Notre Dame, which survived by one point at Michigan State a week after beating Michigan in 1990.
In general, grueling is not good: Only four teams in the last five years – USC in 2006 and the Big 12 South trio of Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in 2008 – have managed to knock off three ranked teams in back-to-back-to-back weeks, and all four lost their next game.
• The defense can keep it close. Alabama's 20-6 win over Carolina last October is probably most notable for the 246-yard outburst that launched the Ingram-for-Heisman meme, including a six-play, all-Ingram touchdown drive in the second half. The Tide were forced to turn to Ingram, though, because the passing game was nonexistent: Greg McElroy passed for 92 yards and two interceptions, and Julio Jones didn't touch the ball. That game was part of a 12-quarter stretch over four games in which Ingram's touchdown was the only time the Tide offense found the end zone.
• This time, they're armed. The Gamecocks have had a few top-shelf receivers over the years, but freshman Marcus Lattimore gives the offense a physical presence they haven't had in the backfield since George Rogers won the Heisman 30 years ago. Lattimore's Herculean effort against Georgia last month helped Carolina hold the ball for more than 35 minutes, and made things easy for the offense's other star, receiver Alshon Jeffery, who went for 103 yards on seven catches with the defense focused on the running game. Jeffery also went above and beyond at Auburn for 192 yards and two touchdowns, the best game of his career.
• They know how to give themselves a chance. Carolina is only 2-9 against top-10 teams under Steve Spurrier, with the wins coming in Thursday-night games against Kentucky (2007) and Ole Miss (2009), neither of which finished anywhere near the top ten. But only one of those games, a 56-6 flop against Florida in 2008, was a blowout; in the other ten games, the average final was Top-10 Opponent 21, South Carolina 17. The Gamecocks have found some gut-wrenching ways to lose to BCS-bound powerhouses:
At some point...
• They've got to win one eventually. And Alabama, currently riding a 29-game regular season winning streak, has to lose. Fumbles, missed field goals, an onside kick: That's why they play the games.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.