COLUMBIA, S.C. — This ain’t your parents' Alabama football.
Anyone who was watching Saturday’s game against South Carolina could be excused if they did a double take, wondering if he or she had turned on the wrong game.
The No. 2 Crimson Tide threw the ball over, and over, and over again while pulling out a 47-23 victory.
It continually executed the run-pass-option. It threw for 495 yards. It played, dare we say, West Coast football.
Granted, that’s an over-generalization, but if you took the decals off the helmets (assuming Alabama wore them except for the numbers), the Crimson Tide looked a lot like the other USC, back when Steve Sarkisian was the Trojans’ offensive coordinator.
Alabama with just 15 carries by the top two running backs? It was held to under 100 rushing yards for the first time since playing Arkansas in 2014.
Don’t argue with the results. The Crimson Tide was getting the ball to its best playmakers and Tua Tagovailoa did what the coaches wanted, take what the defense gave him.
Unfortunately for the Crimson Tide, the defense looked a little West Coast as well.
Credit South Carolina and Will Muschamp with coming up with a good game plan. The Gamecocks were still run out of Williams-Brice Stadium, but freshman Ryan Hilinski is clearly a big-time quarterback and took advantage of the Crimson Tide’s young linebackers.
In case you didn’t notice, Alabama swapped out interior linebacker Christian Harris for sophomore Ale Kaho in the second half. At times the true freshman looked a little overwhelmed while playing in his first true road game.
But that’s just the beginning of what Nick Saban will be talking about in the days to come.
In some ways this was a perfect game for him. Alabama won big yet had enough issues that he can use it to light a fire under the team. Facing a former assistant coach was a bonus, because Will Muschamp knew exactly how to attack the Crimson Tide.
His team exposed the Crimson Tide’s biggest weakness/concern.
“We ran out of gas a little bit on defense,” Saban said. “We don’t have enough players to get through the season if we play 86 plays of defense every week.”
Even though the expectation was that Alabama would easily win here, and it did, this was its first benchmark game of the season.
Its SEC opener was against an opponent that hit back – what Saban called a “real team.” It came against the only opponent in the league with a winning “streak” (of one) against Alabama, and was the first of two opponents that will also face Clemson and Georgia this season.
There will obviously be comparisons.
South Carolina had 324 passing yards and was 8 of 18 in third-down conversions.
That’s a stat Saban will harp on.
“We have to get off the field on third down,” senior linebacker Anfernee Jennings said.
The Gamecocks finished with 459 yards of total offense, and finished with an edge in first downs, rushing yards and total plays.
“It was too much,” junior safety Xavier McKinney said. “A lot of missed tackles. Too many yards on the ground. To many yards in the air. We have a lot of work to do.”
Alabama fans were talking/hoping the 2019 season would be remembered as the revenge tour, beginning with this one, but all that talk can now he shelved. Besides, when Alabama lost here in 2010 it was the third straight game against a ranked opponent, while South Carolina was the first of seven straight opponents the Crimson Tide faced that was coming off a bye week.
The circumstances were completely different – like on the level with running back Najee Harris saying his touchdown celebration following his hurdle was a shout-out to former soccer player Megan Rapinoe.
Yes, Alabama. Not USC.
The defense can be fixed. Toughening up in the red zone was proof, along with the seven tackles for a loss and three sacks, plus turnovers.
But this team has work to do, and it can’t wait until the schedule gets a lot tougher to start improving.