TUSCALOOSA, Ala. | TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - On an unseasonably cool night in Alabama, South Carolina made the Crimson Tide sweat.
But Alabama prevailed to keep its national championship hopes alive and might have launched a Heisman Trophy campaign in the process.
Tide tailback Mark Ingram rushed for a career-high 246 yards on 24 carries Saturday and scored the game's only offensive touchdown to lead No. 2 Alabama to a 20-6 victory against the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks before a capacity crowd of 92,012 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
It was the third-best rushing night in Alabama history and the second time in three seasons USC has let an SEC back run wild. Arkansas' Darren McFadden had 321 yards in a win against the Gamecocks in 2007.
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USC (5-2, 2-2 SEC) fell to 0-12 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the AP poll.
Alabama (7-0, 4-0) overcame four turnovers to win by its second-smallest margin this season. No one has stayed within two touchdowns of the Tide since their season-opening, 34-24 win against Virginia Tech.
"We felt like we could beat them," USC quarterback Stephen Garcia said. "That's an unbelievable team, but I think we've got a pretty good team ourselves. I wish we would have had a few plays back here and there."
Garcia would have loved to have his first pass back - an ill-advised throw that safety Mark Barron picked off and returned 77 yards for a touchdown to put USC in a 7-0 hole after just 64 seconds.
"That pick-six really changed the game a lot. It was the second play of the game," Garcia said. "Then I missed the tackle. That made it even worse. ... Throwing it out of bounds would have changed the whole game."
After falling behind 10-0, the Gamecocks put a pair of scoring drives together at the end of the first half to trail 13-6 at halftime. Spencer Lanning hit field goals of 22 and 31 yards, although the Gamecocks would have liked more.
USC had a first-and-goal at the 5 with 3:39 to go before halftime. But Garcia threw incompletions on three consecutive fade routes to freshman receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had three touchdowns in last week's win against Kentucky.
The Gamecocks appeared to be picking on Alabama senior cornerback Marquis Johnson, who replaced injured All-SEC corner Javier Arenas. Garcia threw five fades to Jeffery in the end zone with Johnson covering. All five resulted in incompletions.
"We thought that was our best chance. Hopefully, someday we can run it in from the 5-yard line. But we didn't think we could," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "... Those guys covered a lot better than those Kentucky guys."
USC forced four turnovers, but the takeaways resulted in no points.
Cornerback C.C. Whitlock fumbled immediately after his first-quarter interception, so the Gamecocks' offense never gained possession. But the offense did nothing after Alabama's other two first-half turnovers, drawing penalties, netting minus-15 yards and failing to pick up a first down.
"They're a very good team, and for us to win, we had to play real smart. And we didn't," Spurrier said.
The Gamecocks also did not have an answer for Ingram, who ran for 146 yards in the first half and averaged 10.2 yards per carry.
Ingram, a 5-foot-10, 212-pound sophomore, was a one-man wrecking crew on Alabama's final drive, gaining all 68 yards on a six-play romp that culminated with his 4-yard touchdown run with 4:54 remaining.
"Mark did as fine a job today as anybody I've ever been around, and that includes Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown, some really good ones," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He was fantastic."
Alabama didn't try to disguise where the ball was going: Ingram took the direct snap on four of the six plays on the last drive.
"If I was coach Saban, I think I'd have done it about the second quarter," Spurrier said. "If we get a back that goes for 248 some night, we're going to be in good shape."
The Gamecocks entered the game as the SEC's fifth-best rushing defense and had not allowed a back to rush for more than 89 yards.
And though Saban praised USC after the game, no one in the visiting locker room wanted to celebrate a moral victory.
"We gave 'em a good shot," left guard Jarriel King said. "I'm not impressed or really happy with the way we played. We put ourselves in positions to take the game, and at the same time we took ourselves right back out."