They say all good things must come to an end.
Before Alabama’s longstanding winning streak ended in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, however, there was a feeling that it never would.
“We can’t just show up and win just because you’re Alabama,” said junior running back Mark Ingram. “I don’t think guys were ready to come out here. Guys thought they could just show up and win.”
With a 35-21 defeat at the hands of No. 19 South Carolina Saturday, the No. 1 Crimson Tide snapped a 19-game winning streak and lost its first regular-season game since 2007.
Alabama kicked a 32-yard field goal on its first possession of the game, and then South Carolina began to dominate the top-ranked team in the country.
The Gamecocks first three possessions were touchdowns. The first was a 9-yard pass from quarterback Stephen Garcia to running back Marcus Lattimore, and the next two were passes from Garcia to the Southeastern Conference’s leading receiver, Alshon Jeffery.
“Jeffery’s a great player,” head coach Nick Saban said. “He made a couple great catches with pretty good coverage on him in critical situations.”
Jeffery harassed the Alabama secondary all night, catching seven passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
A fumble by Greg McElroy, who was sacked seven times in the game, set up South Carolina’s third touchdown.
The Gamecocks’ first punt of the game came with two minutes left in the second quarter, and a 28-yard return by Marquis Maze led to the Tide’s first touchdown just before halftime, an 8-yard pass from McElroy to wide receiver Julio Jones. Kicker Jeremy Shelley, who missed a 31-yard field goal the drive before, missed the extra point to keep the score at 21-9 at the break.
The beginning of the second half gave the feeling that Alabama was going to steal control of the game. On the first play from scrimmage, South Carolina snapped the ball over Garcia’s head, and once the quarterback recovered it, he threw it out of the back of the end zone for a safety to protect a possible Tide touchdown.
After the bizarre play, Shelley redeemed himself a bit by nailing a 39-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 21-14. But the Gamecocks would not let any more momentum swing Alabama’s way.
South Carolina extended its lead to 28-14 with a 15-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run from Lattimore. The Gamecocks converted three third-downs on the drive and were 6-of-11 on third-down conversions in the game.
“That, to me, was the turning point,” Saban said. “We had gotten ourselves back in the game. We created three long-yardage third-down situations. We needed to get a stop.”
Alabama threatened again when McElroy found wide receiver Darius Hanks for a 51-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit back to seven. The Tide then unsuccessfully attempted a fake field goal from the 25-yard line, and the Gamecocks capitalized on it with a game-clinching touchdown to make the final score 35-21.
“I was proud of the way our players fought back in the game, but what about the beginning?” Saban said. “We have a lot of guys on our team who haven’t lost a game. This is a lesson for everybody in terms of what you have to do to prepare, what you have to do to play with consistency in this league.”
McElroy said, “I think this team has been very fortunate up to this point by creating positive outcomes after negative outcomes. We shot ourselves in the foot just too many times. I think everybody just needs to look in the mirror and regroup.
“This team is capable of amazing, amazing things. We can still do everything that we want to do. I promise I will do everything in my power to get these guys ready to go and put this loss in the rear-view mirror.”