Crimson Tide make rare trip to Columbia to face the Gamecocks
The Alabama Crimson Tide visit the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday for the first time since 2010. On that September afternoon, the top-ranked Tide fell to the No. 19 Gamecocks, 35-21, in a major upset. Prior to that game, Alabama's last defeat was to Auburn in the 2007 Iron Bowl. Alabama comes to Williams-Brice Stadium having largely been untested, after blowout victories against Duke and New Mexico State. Meanwhile, South Carolina stumbled to a 24-20 loss to North Carolina in its season opener but rebounded last weekend with a 72-10 drubbing of FCS opponent Charleston Southern.
Alabama at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -25.5
When Alabama Has the Ball
Expect the Crimson Tide to try and establish the run against their first SEC opponent. Through two weeks, Alabama ranks 31st in the country in rushing offense, however, they haven't had a single ball carrier eclipse the 100-yard mark. Part of that is due to circumstance, having big leads and giving many guys carries, part of that also has been the running game has been up to the standard that Nick Saban expects.
South Carolina has a talented defensive front and in a raucous environment, it will be interesting to see how Alabama tries to establish command at the line of scrimmage and see where their offensive line is against an SEC defensive front. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian knows he can throw the ball around the lot with his uber-talented quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, and quartet of wide receivers, but establishing the run and imposing their will in the trenches is the hallmark of Alabama football and something Sarkisian will be looking to establish for the first time in 2019. In the Gamecocks' season debut against North Carolina, the Tar Heels gashed South Carolina for 238 rushing yards, so Alabama should believe they can do the same, if not more.
When South Carolina Has the Ball
Senior quarterback Jake Bentley was lost for several weeks on the final play of the season opener against North Carolina. Insert highly touted freshman Ryan Hilinski. Making his collegiate debut last week, Hilinski, completed 24 of 30 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns in a 62-point blowout of FCS member Charleston Southern. Hilinski earned the backup job in spring ball after enrolling early from high school and looked every bit the part last weekend. Will Muschamp's offensive line must protect Hilinski against much stiffer competition this week.
One way the Gamecocks can help their quarterback is by running the ball effectively. That starts with senior running back Rico Dowdle. He will need to have a day similar to Marcus Lattimore in the 2010 upset of Alabama. In that game, Lattimore, a freshman, had 93 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
When Hilinski drops back, expect 6-foot-3 senior wideout Bryan Edwards to be his favorite target. Last week, Edwards posted five catches that went for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Finding balance will be paramount for South Carolina to give its freshman signal-caller a chance to succeed against a top-notch defense like Alabama's.
Nick Saban is always seeking teaching moments. You can guarantee that he has told his players what happened nine years ago when Alabama last visited Williams-Brice Stadium. The Tide enter this contest just short of being a four-touchdown road favorite. I would give South Carolina an outside chance if Jake Bentley was under center, but that's not the case. Ryan Hilinski will need to find immediate success, build on his confidence, and eliminate any early jitters if the Gamecocks are to pull off a monumental upset. Expect emotions and energy to be high, with the possibility that South Carolina is able to jump out to an early lead. But as the game settles in, the Tide will wear down an overmatched Gamecocks squad. This game will be closer than the experts think, but Bama prevails.
Prediction: Alabama 41, South Carolina 17
— Written by Nick Kayal, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as a college football and NFL writer. Nick is a Morning Show Host in Nashville on 102.5 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @NickKayal.