COLUMBIA, S.C. — They went through them, over them and around them.
It was a good day for Alabama’s playmakers against one of the better defenses it’ll probably face this season.
With South Carolina attempting everything it could think of to try and keep the game close, Alabama’s offense showed not only some of its versatility but ability to silence a crowd on the road.
With junior running back Najee Harris and junior wide receiver DeVonta Smith both scoring two eye-popping receiving touchdowns, Alabama’s offense cranked out 595 yards of total offense, 495 in the air.
In the process, junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa tied an Alabama record with five touchdowns and had a career-best 444 passing yards as Alabama won its SEC opener 47-23 on Saturday. He became the first quarterback in Crimson Tide history with for 400-plus passing yards and five passing touchdowns in one game.
“Those guys really make me look good,” Tagovailoa said. “I just came out to play.”
But as good as the quarterback was, finishing with a passer rating of 227.2, how the Crimson Tide players got to the end zone is what really stood out at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) set an early tone, needing just two plays to cross midfield and five to reach the end zone. With Harris not getting picked up out of the backfield on a delayed route, he opened the scoring with an impressive 25-yard touchdown reception.
The Crimson Tide quickly extended the lead to 14-3. With South Carolina trying to defend junior wide receiver Henry Ruggs III in man coverage, Tagovailoa looked to him early on, but without success.
Ironically, when the Gamecocks switched to a zone coverage on second-and-10, he took a slant in stride and went 81 yards for a 14-3 lead.
“The biggest thing about the offense is run the ball like you’re getting the ball, because you never know what might happen,” Ruggs said.
But those weren’t the jaw-dropping plays.
After South Carolina pulled to within 17-10 in the second quarter, Alabama looked like it was trying to establish the run when on fourth-and-2 executed a play-action to Harris. Instead of just getting the first down he stiff-armed one defender to the ground and then hurdled another en route to the 42-yard touchdown.
“That’s a Madden move,” redshirt junior linebacker Terrell Lewis said, referring to the video game.
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“I try not to hurdle, actually,” Harris said.
Later in the third quarter, Smith scored from the same distance when he took a slant and left a defender grasping at air off a fake.
South Carolina’s game plan was to try and take away Alabama’s running game and limit Jerry Jeudy as much as possible. It often stacked the box and double-teamed the junior wide receiver.
It had some success with both as the Crimson Tide finished with 76 rushing yards and Jeudy finished with six catches for 68 yards. However, Alabama ran a lot of run-pass options, so Tagovailoa did what the coaches wanted in taking what the Gamecocks gave him.
“You could see how it got everyone else open,” Tagovailoa said. “So it’s not just one guy.”
Smith led the Crimson Tide with eight receptions for 136 yards, while Ruggs had six catches for 122.
“That was just a quarterback thing and me just running my routes,” Smith said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen because we ran a lot of [run-pass options]. It must be something that he sees that I don’t.”
Doing everything it could to keep the game close, South Carolina ran a fake field goal, a fake punt, an onside kick and went for the touchdown after having the ball at the goal line in the final seconds of the first half. None worked. The first was nullified by a penalty, the second was snuffed out, the third didn’t work and the latter resulted in the clock running out.
“I’ll get fined for the rest of my life if I comment on that” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp told CBS about the lack of a replay review on the play.
Still, the scrappy Gamecocks kept plugging away behind freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinksi. He threaded double-coverage for a 31-yard touchdown by Shy Smith and led more two long drives for field goals.
Overall, he was 36-for-57 for 324 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also lost a fumble on a sack by senior linebacker Anfernee Jennings.
“Just from a gutsy standpoint, he took some shots there from some really good players,” Muschamp said. “Going up against a really good secondary, he made some tight throws and had some balls dropped. We had opportunities to keep the chains moving, he hung in there and did a nice job.”
The Gamecocks ran 86 offensive players and outgained the Crimson Tide on the ground 135-76. Consequently, South Carolina (1-2, 0-1) left feeling like it has a lot of potential for the rest of the season.
Alabama looked more dangerous than ever offensively due its ability to adapt.
“They have a really good run-stopping defense, so we knew that we weren’t going to have as much wide-open runs like that,” Harris said. “[Coach Saban] also said to take as much as you can in the passing game because we were going to have a lot of one-on-one matchups.
“I didn’t know it was going to end up like that.”