COLUMBIA, S.C. — The results were the same on Saturday as No. 2 Alabama rolled to its 25th consecutive win against an SEC East Division team, passing South Carolina silly in a 47-23 win at Williams-Brice Stadium. But the route was more circuitous than the usual Crimson Tide victory of recent vintage.
The Crimson Tide didn’t dominate in any area except the passing game, powered by Tua Tagovailoa and his amazing receivers, supplemented — as if it needed a supplement — by Najee Harris catching the ball out of the backfield. Tagovailoa threw for 444 yards and five touchdowns, becoming the first Alabama quarterback ever to have the 400-yard/five-touchdown combination in a single game. Two of the scoring passes went to DeVonta Smith and two more went to Harris, including a 42-yard catch-and-run where Harris hurdled over a Gamecock defender and into every highlight package shown on Saturday evening.
Alabama needed every inch of those passing statistics, though, as the Crimson Tide rushed for just 76 yards and allowed the Gamecocks to gain 459 total yards. Turnovers and red-zone problems kept South Carolina from converting yardage into points, but Nick Saban clearly wanted to see a better defensive effort.
“Our goal was to play a complete game,” Saban said. “I thought we did that offensively. We do need to have more balance on offense. It’s great that we can pass it well (but) we need to be able to run the ball better.”
“On defense, I thought we ran out of gas.”
Alabama led from the opening drive, with was capped by a 24-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Smith, although South Carolina narrowly missed on a couple of momentum-shifting plays. The Gamecocks appeared to have executed a fake punt for a 50-yard touchdown pass, but the play was brought back due to holding. Then, near the end of the first half, with Alabama leading 24-10, the Gamecocks reached the Alabama 1-yard line on a Rico Dowdle run. To the consternation of the Gamecock faithful, he was ruled down at the 1-yard line. The SEC Officiating Twitter account released an explanation afterward saying “the replay official saw the right knee was down and knew the call could not be overturned, therefore, the game was not stopped.”
South Carolina drove to the Alabama 5-yard line on its first possession of the second half but settled for a field goal. Alabama struck back with a 42-yard Tagovailoa-to-Smith touchdown to push its lead to 31-13 and maintained a comfortable margin after that.
The Crimson Tide (3-0) returns home next Saturday to host Southern Miss in an 11 a.m. contest.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt