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‘Bama cruises past Gamecocks after strong USC start

Tim Leible
tim@theitem.com
Posted 9/14/19

The Gamecocks made things interesting early as they hosted no. 2 ranked Alabama on Saturday afternoon, but the Crimson Tide proved to be too much for South Carolina. USC only trailed 14-10 at the end of the first, but it was all Bama after that, as the Tide ran away with a 47-23 win.

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‘Bama cruises past Gamecocks after strong USC start

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COLUMBIA -- The University of South Carolina made things interesting for a while on Saturday as it played host to No. 2 Alabama at Williams-Brice Stadium, but the Crimson Tide ultimately proved to be way too much.

USC only trailed 14-10 at the end of the first quarter, but it was all ‘Bama after that, as the Tide ran away with a 47-23 win.

Alabama hit the ground running, needing just five plays to score the first points of the game following the opening kickoff. Heisman Trophy candidate and Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hit Najee Harris on a 24-yard strike for a touchdown to start a very productive afternoon for the Alabama running back.

USC came back on the ensuing drive and converted on fourth down at its own 34-yard line to keep its drive alive early. The Gamecocks then caught a break after the first down as Patrick Surtain had an interception for Alabama. The play was negated by an illegal substitution penalty by the Tide. USC took advantage of the opportunity by eventually converting on a 44-yard field goal by placekicker Parker White to cut the lead to 7-3.

The Gamecock defense stepped up on the following drive, forcing a quick punt after a pair of sacks. A terrible punt had USC starting at the Tide 30, but it was unable to take advantage of it.

Carolina lined up for a field goal at the 33, and that’s when USC head coach Will Muschamp pulled the first of several trick plays out of his bag. The ball was flipped to White, who showed off his wheels on his way to the end zone. However, the play was called back due to a hold. USC ended up having to punt, but pinned the Tide at its 4.

The great punt wasn’t enough to slow down one of the top offenses in the country as Tagovailoa went to work. He hit wide receiver Henry Ruggs III on a short slant, and he took it 81 yards to the house.

True freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski, making just his second start for South Carolina, struggled to find time in the pocket early after getting relentless pressure from the Alabama rush, but he was able to connect on some deeper passes on USC’s next drive. That culminated in his first touchdown pass against a ranked opponent.

He sat in the pocket on third and five at the Alabama 31 before making a bold pass into double coverage to wide receiver Shi Smith. Smith came down with the pass in the end zone to trim the Alabama lead to 14-10.

Alabama opened the second quarter with a 34-yard pass and quickly worked its way into Gamecock territory. The Crimson Tide couldn’t quite convert on a third down fade in the back of the end zone, but ended up tacking on a 23-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-10.

After a USC punt, the Tide went back to work. South Carolina seemed to have ‘Bama stopped at the USC 42, but Alabama elected to go for it on fourth down. Harris did the rest from there, as he took a short pass and shook off a defender before leaping over another on his way to a score to put the Tide up 24-10.

Perhaps feeling the pressure to get on the board on the ensuing drive. Muschamp elected to go with another fake, this time on a punt, in USC territory. The Gamecocks couldn’t reach the first down marker, giving the ball to Alabama at 32. Luckily for the Gamecocks, Alabama missed a field goal.

The Gamecocks drove to the Tide 4 after taking over, chipping away at the Alabama defense. With less than a minute to play, running back Rico Dowdle dove for the end zone. He was marked short at the 1, and a replay review never came.

USC could not get in the end zone on the next two plays, and Muschamp decided to go for the touchdown instead of a chip-shot field goal with six seconds left in the first half. Hilinski’s pass was high and USC ended the half in a 24-10 hole.

Muschamp felt USC was going to need to get every point available, and that’s why he took so many rish. While they didn’t pay off, Muschamp didn’t regret the aggressive play calls.

“I felt like we had to steal some possessions in the game,” said Muschamp after the game. “So yeah, it was a different mindset than maybe we have other weeks, but it’s not the same every week. It’s what you have to do to win the game, and that’s the way we felt coming into this ball game.”

South Carolina opened the second half with a field goal, but after that it was all Alabama. First Tagovailoa hit wide receiver DeVonta Smith for a 42-yard strike, before a 21-yard field goal just before the end of the third quarter. The Gamecocks added another field goal to open the fourth, but Alabama put the game away with another touchdown to Smith and a 1-yard run by Mac Jones.

Hilinski added one more touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in the game.

Hilinski finished the contest 36-for-57 for 324 yards and two touchdowns against one interception. Muschamp was thrilled with the way his quarterback stepped up to face one of the best teams in the country.

“Just from a gutsy standpoint, he was taking some shots in the pocket there against some really good players and going against a really good secondary,” said the USC head coach. “He hung in there and did a nice job. I’m really proud of his effort today.”

Dowdle ran for 102 yards on 12 carries, while running back Tavien Feaster added 10 carries for 33 yards. Shi Smith led the Gamecocks in receiving with 90 yards and a score on six catches. Wide receiver Bryan Edwards caught a team-high nine passes for 79 yards. Tight end Kyle Markway scored the final touchdown, finishing with five catches for 46 yards.

Tagovailoa completed 28 of his 36 attempts for 444 and five scores. DeVonta Smith led Alabama with 136 yards and two touchdowns, while Ruggs added 122 yards and a score.

While not happy to be 1-2, Muschamp is still confident with his football team heading into Saturday’s game at Missouri.

“We have a good team. We’re 1-2, we’re not where we want to be, we’re not where we thought we would be, but we’ve got to continue circling what we’re doing, pull together and get back to work tomorrow,” said Muschamp. “That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to reload. We’ve got really good leadership on this team, and that’s what this team will do.”