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October 6, 2010

He's Pretty Good, Too

There isn't much that Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Julio Jones can't do with a football in their hands.

The guy who gives it to them isn't bad, either.

"He does a good job managing the game," strong safety DeVonte Holloman said of No. 1 Alabama's quarterback, Greg McElroy. "He doesn't make any stupid plays, turning the ball over or things like that. When you don't turn the ball over, you always put your team in a position to win."

McElroy, back for another season after helping pilot the Crimson Tide to the national championship, will never have the press clippings of his celebrated running-back tandem. He won't be joining Ingram in the ranks of Heisman Trophy winners.

He doesn't have to. The ring he has for last year is as shiny as his teammates' and he is doing a masterful job at his primary task -- controlling and managing the ballgame. All coach Nick Saban has asked of McElroy is not to lose the game, and the QB has done it.

His numbers this year -- 72-for-103 for 983 yards, three interceptions and seven touchdowns -- are decent but his most impressive statistic keeps rising. McElroy brings a lengthy personal winning streak with him to Columbia on Saturday to face No. 19 South Carolina.

He is 35-0 as a starting quarterback since his senior year of high school. McElroy has not lost a game in which he started at quarterback since the eighth grade.

"I think that's a good reputation to him," linebacker Tony Straughter said. "I think it's something that if he decides to go into the NFL, it's going to carry over. He's someone a lot of quarterbacks can look up to."

It's another weapon for the Gamecocks (3-1, 1-1 SEC) to stop, but one they feel good about. USC got into McElroy's face early and often during last year's 20-6 defeat at Alabama.

McElroy started the game last year holding onto a streak of 135 passes without an interception. Two of his first four were swallowed by Gamecock hands.

Shaq Wilson and C.C. Whitlock each picked off McElroy, although Whitlock's interception was popped loose by Jones on the return and recovered by Alabama. McElroy, having a bad night, stopped trying to make things happen and simply handed the ball off for the remainder of the game, which is what clinched it.

Ingram salted the game (and some say the Heisman) with his fourth-quarter outburst. Before that, USC held Alabama to a 13-6 lead through three quarters, a pick-six thrown by Stephen Garcia on his first pass of the night the only thing preventing a tie game.

It's a new year and a new look from Alabama (5-0, 2-0), although it's mostly the same faces on offense. What's different is the confidence the Crimson Tide have -- last year, it was as if they thought they could win every game and this year, it's as if they know it.

USC, coming off a week of rest and hoping to stop its losing skid at one game, wants to make a celebratory week on campus even better. With the national eye trained on Columbia on Saturday, the Gamecocks want to pull off a shocker.

Limiting McElroy will help that dream. Although he can still hand off to Ingram or Richardson, constant pressure on the quarterback could disrupt his rhythm and possibly bring the tailbacks down in the backfield. That would lead to long passing downs, where USC could potentially blitz him again or fill the field with defenders looking for another interception.

"Greg is a young man that hasn't lost a ballgame since middle school, I guess," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, an Alabama graduate, said. "He's done a good job of being a captain of their offense and getting them in and out of good and bad plays. I guess when you've got two great tailbacks and an offensive line like they have, you can hand it off and then you can throw the ball at will.

"That's what they've done so far, and we've got to do a good job of stopping the run and try to make him beat us throwing the football."

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