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(Saturday, October 9th)
Final Score: (19) South Carolina 35, (1) Alabama 21
Columbia, SC (Sports Network) - South Carolina pulled off its first ever win over the top-ranked team in the country, as Stephen Garcia threw three touchdowns to help the 19th-ranked Gamecocks topple the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, 35-21, at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 SEC) had two weeks to prepare for an Alabama program riding a 19-game win streak, and the extra rest paid off as their defense recorded seven sacks and held the Tide's vaunted running game to 36 yards.
Garcia, who was a perfect 9-of-9 for 94 yards and three scores en route to a 21-9 halftime lead, wound up 17-of-20 for 201 yards in the upset win.
Alshon Jeffery was Garcia's primary target, catching seven passes for 127 yards and two TDs, including a sensational one-handed grab that went for 45 yards to set up a pivotal score midway through the fourth quarter.
Marcus Lattimore rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns in South Carolina's signature win under head coach Steve Spurrier, who moved into second place on the all-time SEC wins list.
"Our guys played their hearts out. We had lots of outstanding individual plays. It's the best our offense has played ever since I've been here, without a doubt," said Spurrier, whose team lost to nationally-ranked Auburn two weeks ago. "It was a good win for us and hopefully we can improve on it."
The 35 points was the most scored by an Alabama opponent since LSU scored 41 in a 41-34 Crimson Tide loss on November 3, 2007.
Mark Ingram, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who gashed the Gamecocks for 246 yards on the ground last year, was bottled up for 41 yards on 11 carries.
Greg McElroy completed 27-of-34 passes for 315 yards and two scores for 'Bama (5-1, 2-1), which had its string of 29 straight regular season wins snapped. McElroy had not lost as a starting quarterback since eighth grade.
"You have to look at the glass half-full in this situation. It's early in the season. We can still accomplish everything we want to accomplish," McElroy said. "This is going to be a great learning experience."
The outcome was even more shocking given the fashion in which the Crimson Tide came back to win at Arkansas two weeks ago, then annihilated perennial title contender Florida last Saturday, 31-6. A third consecutive ranked conference opponent apparently wore out the Tide, especially in the first half.
The start of the second half appeared to shift the momentum toward Alabama, though, as a high snap on the first play from scrimmage soared over Garcia's head. The ball bounced inside South Carolina's own five-yard line, and Garcia gathered the ball at the one running towards the end zone. Rather than take a knee or attempt to throw the ball away, the quarterback tossed the ball through the back of the end zone for a conceded safety and a 21-11 game.
A short field and a fourth-down conversion had the Tide moving on the ensuing possession, but the visitors only managed three points out of it on Jeremy Shelley's 39-yarder 5:23 into the half.
The Gamecocks quelled the shift of the tide thanks in part to Jeffery making a pair first down catches in South Carolina territory on the next drive. Garcia converted another third-down try to Tori Gurley, and runs of 17 and 11 by Brian Maddox and Lattimore, respectively, set up a quick option toss to Lattimore for a one-yard TD with 1:42 remaining in the third.
Alabama answered on the opening play of the fourth quarter, as Darius Hanks found himself wide open down the middle of the field for a 51-yard catch and run and a 28-21 contest.
Less than a minute later, Will Lowery made a diving interception on a ball dropped by Jeffery in Carolina territory, but Stephon Gilmore's sack on third down pushed the ball back to the Carolina 25. Alabama faked a 42-yard field goal attempt that proved unsuccessful when Ed Stinson dropped A.J. McCarron's short pass in the left flat.
"We probably didn't make a good call on the fake," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "It gave them the momentum of the game back. We could have gotten some points right there. It may not have affected the outcome of the game though because we couldn't stop them."
Spurrier was then faced with a touch decision on 4th-and-1 at his own 35. After calling timeout, South Carolina brought out the offense and Garcia took it himself for a two-yard sneak to move the chains.
Lattimore rushed for a first down before Jeffery made a highlight-reel grab, as he jumped for the ball with one hand, pinned it to his shoulder pad, shook off his defender and sprinted down the right sideline for a 45-yard pickup down to the six.
"I don't know how I caught it. I just reached up at the last minute and made a good catch," admitted Jeffery. "I was just trying to make a play."
On 3rd-and-goal from the two, Lattimore bulled over a pair of defenders for a crucial touchdown with 7:01 remaining.
Two straight incompletions and Melvin Ingram's sack of McElroy for a 13-yard loss forced an Alabama punt with a little over five minutes left, and a first- down run by Lattimore allowed the Gamecocks to kill more than three minutes off the game clock.
The Tide finally got the ball back with 1:41 to play, but it was much too late to pull out another comeback win.
Alabama moved the ball into the red zone on its opening drive, but opted for a 32-yard Shelley field goal on 4th-and-1 from the South Carolina 15.
The Gamecocks scored a touchdown on each of their first three touches, the initial score coming when Lattimore came out of the backfield unaccounted for, caught a short pass and used block at the five to go in for the nine-yard TD.
After forcing an Alabama punt near midfield, Garcia extended a drive on 4th- and-2 from the Alabama 33 when he was hit in the backfield on a shotgun draw, spun free and managed to run for the first down anyway. It was the first time all season South Carolina attempted a fourth-down conversion.
On the next play, Garcia threw a corner route to the right pylon, and Jeffery hauled in a 26-yard lob with a defender draped over his back in the final minute of the first quarter.
On the first play of the next frame, Antonio Allen hit McElroy just as he was about to throw, causing a fumble that the hosts recovered at the Alabama 43. The turnover was converted into a TD, as Garcia found Jeffery on a fade route in the end zone for a surprising 21-3 game at the 13:52 mark.
The Tide then used its vaunted running game and short passing attack to hold the ball for the next 9:17, only to come away empty-handed. On 3rd-and-4 from the opposing nine, McElroy was sacked to bring out Shelley, who from the left hash mark pushed his 31-yard chip shot wide right.
South Carolina took over with 4 1/2 minutes left in the half and failed to move the line of scrimmage before punting. McElroy completed three passes to reach the South Carolina 10, and on third down from eight, Julio Jones caught a jump ball in the middle of the end zone to cut into the deficit.
In keeping with Alabama's error-filled half, a bad snap and hold on the extra point resulted in a kick that went wide right, and the Gamecocks led 21-9 at the half.
South Carolina, which has won 12 of its last 13 at home, had been 0-4 in its previous meetings against the nation's top-ranked team. Its previous highest ranked victim was No. 3 North Carolina in 1981...South Carolina defeated the nation's top-ranked team in all three major men's sports (football, baseball and basketball) in 2010...Spurrier has 107 wins as an SEC coach over an SEC opponent, behind only Paul "Bear" Bryant (159)...Alabama's running attack averaged 229.8 yards and its defense had allowed nine points per game coming in...Jones ended with 118 yards on eight catches, while sophomore sensation Trent Richardson was held to 12 yards on two carries in the loss...Alabama heads back home next week with a game against Ole Miss, while South Carolina visits Kentucky.
10/09 23:26:20 ET