Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0) vs South Carolina Gamecocks (5-1, 2-1) 7:45EST ESPN
Alabama leads the all-time series 10-3 (series record is 3-3 since South Carolina joined the SEC)
The Crimson Tide play host to the South Carolina Gamecocks in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is a 17 point favorite in this contest.
The Crimson Tide are led offensively by quarterback Greg McElroy (1233 yards passing, nine touchdowns; 6-0 record as a starter) and running back Mark Ingram (659 yards rushing, 163 yards receiving, seven total touchdowns).
Alabama has scored 26 touchdowns on the season (nine passing, 16 rushing, and one defensive). It is easy to see how important McElroy and Ingram are to the offensive success of the Tide. Although the touchdown production is slanted towards the rushing game, the Crimson Tide employ a very balanced offense statistically: 1341 yards rushing, 1327 yards passing.
Alabama has ran the ball 260 times on the season while attempting 167 passes. While many expected this offense to regress somewhat with the losses of quarterback JP Wilson and running back Glenn Coffee, that has simply not been the case.
The Crimson Tide relies heavily on back-up running back Trent Richardson to spell Ingram. Richardson (406 all purpose yards) provides the spark that the Alabama offense needs at key times of the game.
The hidden offensive player is return specialist Javier Arenas. Arenas is averaging 94 yards per game ... all return yards.
Julio Jones is the missing man. Jones has been injured this season, but not to the extent to plummet his statistics to: 13 receptions for 175 yards and one touchdown. Jones was regarded to be an automatic All SEC (possibly All American) selection this year. Thirty five receiving yards per game will not make that happen. Consider Julio Jones to be Bama's best kept secret (weapon).
Alabama's red zone offense is ranked low in the SEC on a numbers basis, but it is a mirage. While only scoring 84.8% of the time once inside the twenty yard line (SEC rank: Seventh), Bama has made more trips inside their opponents twenty than any other SEC team. Of the 33 red zone trips for the Tide, 28 drives resulted in points: 15 touchdowns, 13 field goals. Does Alabama become too predictable once inside the red zone?
Did you know? Alabama leads the SEC in time of possession at 34:08 per game and turnover margin at +9.
The South Carolina Gamecocks enter this game roughly nine feet short of being undefeated. Only a tipped pass from the three and half yard line versus Georgia has blemished the Gamecocks record.
South Carolina is led offensively by Stephen Garcia's 1268 yards passing (nine touchdowns). Where Garcia goes, so do the Gamecocks.
There is no 'official' rushing leader on the South Carolina team. While Kenny Miles officially leads the team in rushing with 268 yards (44.7 yards per game), four Gamecocks (including Garcia) have 42 or more carries. Miles along with Jarvis Giles, and Brian Maddox will all see time in the backfield.
Six South Carolina receivers have double digit receptions. Moe Brown's 316 receiving yards leads the team.
South Carolina's red zone percentages currently rank ninth in the SEC. The Gamecocks have driven the ball into their opponent's red zone 29 times and have come away with points 23 times: 15 touchdowns, eight field goals.
This game could come down to defense. Alabama has the SEC's number two total defense while the Gamecocks have the SEC's number four over all defense.
Alabama is led defensively by Rolando McClain's 42 tackles (5.5 tackles for loss) and Mark Barron's 32 tackles. The bookend linebackers have led Alabama's stingy defense to only allow their opponents to convert 24% of all third down attempts. This Crimson Tide defense reminds many of the (best ever?) 1992 defense.
South Carolina has a solid defense as well. Ranked fourth in the SEC, SC is led by linebacker Eric Norwood. Jasper Brinkley was a solid LB for four years at South Carolina ... Norwood is better, much better. Shaq Wilson is the team's number two tackler with 33 total tackles.
The red zone defenses are only separated by two positions in the SEC rankings, but the difference is night and day. Alabama has only allowed their opponents to score six times (eight red zone attempts) the entire season. On the flip side, South Carolina has allowed 14 scores out of 17 opponent's red zone attempts.
If this game does come down to defense, the South Carolina defense must step up inside of the red zone in order to win this game.
Many prognosticators give the Gamecocks zero chance to win this game. Being the proactive site that we are, we asked our friends at the South Carolina blog, Left Over Hotdog, to give us a short burst of "what if": Can South Carolina defeat the mighty Alabama?
If the Gamecocks hope to knock off a second opponent in the top five this year, it'll likely take another down-to-the-wire effort. The Gamecocks will have to play nearly perfect with a outstanding performance from its defense in stopping the run while not shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers. The USC offense will have to control the ball with a mixed bag of running and throwing plays, anything to keep the 'bama offense off the field. The Crimson Tide are beatable and Carolina has a chance, but it will take perfect play from USC on both sides of the ball, timely mistakes from Alabama, lots of luck and an answered prayer.
Could this game come down to field position and special teams? It could happen. South Carolina must limit Javier Arenas' touches to prevent a special teams play from turning the game. Even if it means punting the ball out of bounds, then so be it.
Ultimately, I believe the Crimson Tide defense will be too strong for the Gamecocks offense to handle. While the score should be lower than several expect, the SC defense is a proud unit. The South Carolina offense must ensure that the game does not get away from them early.
Coaching: Believe it or not, but this is only the second time that Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban have faced each other. Spurrier currently holds the upper hand with a 2-0 record ... both times Spurrier was the head coach of the Florida Gators.
SECRivals.com Prediction: Alabama 24 South Carolina 10
This article first appeared on SECRivals.com