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October 18, 2009

Upon Further Review: South Carolina at Alabama

Usually the night before the University of Alabama football team plays the coaches and players enjoy a little down time together and watch a movie.

Friday, on the eve of facing South Carolina, the Crimson Tide didn't watch just any flick, but one that hasn't even been released yet. Coach Nick Saban pulled some strings and had "More Than a Game," which chronicles LeBron James' basketball career including his early days in Akron, Ohio, "shipped in from California."

"They lost when they were in the eighth grade in an AAU championship, I think it was the only game they ever lost," Saban said. "Then they won the state championship when he was a freshman, they won the state championship when he was a sophomore and then they lost the state championship when they were juniors because they became arrogant.

"They lost their focus. They lost their way. They didn't pay attention to detail. They disrespected the coach. Nobody on our team has done that, but I just wanted them to see what can happen when your head's not in the right place."

If the message didn't sink in before the 20-6 homecoming victory, it probably did after. No. 2 Alabama had four turnovers, 10 penalties, more red-zone problems and a terrible passing game.

Here are this week's awards:

Player of the game: Easiest selection ever. Sophomore running back Mark Ingram set the Bryant-Denny Stadium rushing record with 246 yards on 24 carries (10.2 average), caught two passes for 23 yards and scored his 11th touchdown of the season.

Play of the game: Alabama was on its eighth play of a drive and had first down at the South Carolina 34 when junior quarterback Greg McElroy was hit while throwing and the ball intended for junior wide receiver Darius Hanks was intercepted by defensive back C.C. Whitlock. Not only did sophomore Julio Jones save a touchdown with his tackle, but forced a fumble that Hanks recovered.

Hit of the game: It came early when senior nose tackle Terrence Cody worked his way down the line and flattened South Carolina running Kenny Miles for no gain.

Statistic of the game: ESPN's statisticians counted 118 yards after the initial hit for Ingram.

Did you notice? During Mark Barron's 77-yard interception return for a touchdown, when the sophomore safety got down inside the South Carolina 30 he still had senior cornerback Marquis Johnson, senior linebacker Cory Reamer, Cody, junior linebacker Rolando McClain and senior Eryk Anders blocking in front of him with senior safety Justin Woodall trailing. Freshman linebacker Nico Johnson was knocked down while throwing a block.

Here are 10 other things you may not have noticed, with a bit of a movie theme.

1. The Good: Ingram's 246 rushing yards came off his career-high 172 yards last week, both against Southeastern Conference opponents. It was also the second best single-game rushing performance in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year, trailing only the 260 by UTEP's Donald Buckram against Houston on Oct. 3. When asked if he's been around a performance like that Saban said, "Well, one time we had two backs, and Cedric Irvin was one for them who's on our staff here now as a student-coach, gain 200 yards in one game against Penn State. Two guys. Mark did as fine a job today as anybody I've ever been around and that includes Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown and some other really good ones. He was fantastic and I think it was really important to take the air out of the ball at the end of the game the way we did."

2. The Bad: Alabama's special teams continue to struggle with kickoff coverage and penalties. Tide units were flagged five times: freshman Dre Kirkpatick (who limped off the field after the game) for face mask, sophomore Chris Jordan for holding, junior Preston Dial for holding, freshman Robert Lester for an obvious block to the back, and sophomore Brad Smelley for an illegal block.

3. The Ugly: Although McElroy was clearly out of sync Alabama was obviously concerned with South Carolina's pass-rush and schemed accordingly. "I think everything is about timing, confidence, reading the defense, and throwing the ball in the right place, which has been his strength," Saban said. "In the past two games he just hasn't had that same confidence in terms of where to go with the ball and what to do with it." South Carolina's pass-rush had him off-balance, but the secondary had good coverage. He also some bad luck, like the official who tripped when sophomore Marquis Maze went by only to collide with senior Roy Upchurch after making the catch, and McElroy tripped on one of his throws. McElroy's first attempt was picked off and he finished the first quarter with more interceptions (two) than completions (one). He was fortunate not to have two others picked off. Every wide receiver not named Maze had zero catches, no one had more than two receptions the Tide had 70- yards after the catch. There were two drops and one deflection. McElroy completed 2 of 6 passes on third-downs, with one interception, and neither completion resulted in a first down. He also attempted just one pass in the fourth quarter and was 0-for-2 in the red zone.

4. Ingram's drive: Up 13-6, Alabama had first down at its own 32 with 7:55 remaining when it went 68 yards on six plays, all Ingram carries. Five came out of the wildcat formation, with Ingram taking the snaps. Pulling senior guard Mike Johnson and Dial had key blocks on the initial play, a 24-yard gain through the right side, and four plays later Ingram went 22 yards around the left end to set up his own 4-yard touchdown.

5. Marquis Johnson's night: Pressed into the starting lineup after senior Javier Arenas was a last-minute scratch (ribs), South Carolina threw at him 10 times, completing just one pass on an 11-yard slant. He was also flagged for pass interference after being fooled on the flea-flicker. Marquis Johnson was credited with breaking up six passes, only one of which came when the Gamecocks called three straight fades into the end zone to receiver Alson Jeffery. Junior Kareem Jackson had eight balls thrown his way, including Barron's interception. He was in coverage on both Jeffery's 52-yard catch-and-run and his one-handed over-the-shoulder catch for 13 yards, and had one pass-interference penalty. Senior Tyrone King Jr. slipped and fell on the pass quarterback Stephen Garcia missed the open man for a touchdown, but finished with seven tackles and 1.5 sacks.

6. Where the Tide ran: Early on. Alabama went up the middle and called numerous draws, resulting in eight carries for 48 yards. By the time the game was over, though, the Tide pretty much had a big gain through every hole, including Ingram's 54-yard run through the left side, carries of 27 and 24 through the right side, and his 28-yard run around the right end.

7. Third downs: Garcia completed 20 of 46 passes while taking a pounding, but eight of his first 10 completions were on third downs, and he had three more in the fourth quarter. Consequently, South Carolina converted 9 of 19 third-down opportunities compared to the Tide's 3-for-10. That was a big reason why the Gamecocks finished with an advantage in both first downs (19 to 17), and time of possession (31:43 to 28:17). Incidentally, South Carolina's longest run was Garcia's 21-yard gain out of the pocket late in the first half to help set up the second field goal. South Carolina's longest traditional run was 12 yards by Miles, who still only averaged 2.7 yards per carry. Ingram had eight carries that were longer.

8. Who played: Although sophomore Jerrell Harris was eligible, he didn't play, with Nico Johnson at weakside linebacker in the base defense. According to the participation chart sophomore nose tackle Josh Chapman did play but freshman Kerry Murphy filled his spot in the defensive line rotation. Upchurch was added to kick coverage.

9. Penalties: In addition to the previously-mentioned penalties, sophomore end Marcell Dareus was flagged for being offside, senior tight end Colin Peek is probably still scratching his head for his pass-interference call and Mike Johnson was called for a chop-block when the defender he hit low was already engaged in another block. Senior defensive end Lorenzo Washington could have been penalized for taking his helmet off while celebrating a sack and still on the field.

10. Officiating: Referee Hubert Owens' crew called a pretty good game, but swallowed their whistles in the fourth quarter especially during South Carolina's final possession. They missed a blatant hold and McClain essentially being tackled from behind. Overall they called 15 penalties, but just one in the fourth quarter on a punt return.


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