South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood might have a tough time coming up with the definition of a physical offense, but he knows one when he sees one.
Studying video this week of Alabama, Norwood saw the picture of physicality.
"You can't be a soft team and run the ball as well as they do," Norwood said of the Crimson Tide. "To be able to do that, you've got to have a pretty solid offensive line. Watching them on film, it shows."
Saturday's game between No. 22 USC and No. 2 Alabama appears to be a matchup of the Gamecocks' fast defense against the Crimson Tide's power, ball-control offense.
USC's last game that was billed as such did not turn out well for the Gamecocks. Iowa tailback Shonn Greene rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Hawkeyes to a 31-10 victory in an Outback Bowl that was hyped as a matchup of SEC speed vs. Big Ten power.
The Gamecocks hope to stand taller in Tuscaloosa than they did in Tampa in January.
USC has not allowed an opposing back to rush for 100 yards this season and ranks fifth in the SEC in rushing defense. But there are signs the Gamecocks are beginning to feel the effects of season-ending injuries to a pair of starters from the heart of the defense - knee injuries to middle linebacker Rodney Paulk and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.
USC has given up its most rushing yards the past two weeks, allowing S.C. State to run for 170 and Kentucky to go for 205. The Wildcats, who had a pair of backs finish with 89 rushing yards, found ample running room between the tackles.
"We're not real big in there," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "Of course, Shaq Wilson is about a 210-pound inside linebacker. He doesn't look like most of the guys we play against, but he does a good job once we keep those big linemen off of him."
The defensive tackles responsible for keeping blockers off Wilson - Ladi Ajiboye and Nathan Pepper - are both 6-foot-1 and weigh 285 and 300 pounds, respectively. That sounds big until they are compared to Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody, who, at 6-5 and 354 pounds, is known as Mount Cody.
"They list him at 354," Spurrier said. "That might be a little on the under side."
And though the Gamecocks have no behemoths like Cody, Pepper believes the defense's label as a fast unit only tells half the story.
"You can't just run fast to play defense. You've got to be physical," Pepper said. "You can't go out and play anyone being fast, because if you do, they'll just run through you and basically tear you down."
That is what Alabama has been doing to most of its opponents. Tailback Mark Ingram, a workhorse at 5-10 and 212 pounds, has run an average of 25 times for 156 yards the past two weeks in wins against Kentucky and Mississippi.
Ingram, a sophomore from Flint, Mich., is one of three backs nationally with a rushing average of 100 yards or more and at least 10 touchdowns. (Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and Stanford's Toby Gerhart are the others.)
Alabama averages 43 running plays and 27 passes a game, and it leads the SEC in time of possession at 34:08 a game. Spurrier believes if the Gamecocks can force Alabama to throw, they can take advantage of their speed-rushers - Norwood and defensive end Cliff Matthews, a tandem Spurrier called the best in the country.
"If we could somehow get ahead by a score or two ... I think our pass rush can give them some problems if it comes to that," Spurrier said. "But we would have to get ahead before it would come to that type of game."
Norwood said this week's game reminds him of USC's trip to No. 2 LSU in 2007. The 12th-ranked Gamecocks kept the game close but could not stop LSU's ground game (290 yards on 50 carries) and lost 28-16.
Norwood said the key is to be the more physical team Saturday and accept nothing less than a victory.
"We definitely want to go out and be competitive. But we want to win," Norwood said. "We're not going down there just to shake their hands and be happy just to be there playing in front of 100,000 fans in Bryant-Denny."