The numbers aren’t typical from what the Alabama defense is used to displaying, but according to coach Nick Saban and a couple of the Crimson Tide defenders, it had more to do with the game plan South Carolina employed during the 47-23 loss Saturday afternoon than anything else.
The Gamecocks ran 86 offensive plays and finished with 459 yards. Freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski had his second-straight solid performance, finishing with 324 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in his first career start against an SEC foe.
Alabama free safety Xavier McKinney thought Hilinski played well with the shorter passing routes being utilized because that is what the defense was giving them.
“I thought they did a great job checking to those shorter routes and throwing those routes,” McKinney said. “I thought that was part of their game plan. I don’t think that had anything to do with the quarterback being a freshman. I thought he played pretty well. I thought he was a decent QB.”
South Carolina had most of its success moving the ball between the 20s. They scored on two of the three times in the red zone, but Saban thought the play of his team once USC reached Alabama territory was one of the keys.
Nine of the 11 South Carolina possessions ended in Alabama territory. But they only scored two touchdowns, a 31-yard pass from Hilinski to Shi Smith in the first quarter and an 11-yarder to Kyle Markway in the closing seconds of the game.
“They did a great job of stopping them in the red zone when we needed to but it was disappointing we didn’t execute better. There was a lot of adjusting to do,” Saban said. “When the field shrunk, we were able to get them stopped.”
Offensively, it was a banner day for Heisman hopeful Tua Tagovailoa. The junior finished with the third most passing yards in Alabama history with 444 yards and touchdown passes of 24, 81, 42, 42 and 11 yards. The five scores also tied a school record.
The Crimson Tide only ran for 76 yards on 25 carries, but the passing game was so effective that it didn’t matter.
Tagovailoa said the South Carolina defense did exactly what they showed on film.
“Everything they showed on film is what we thought they would run, and they did,” Tagovailoa said. “There were indicators when we motion, we could see if they were in man or zone. Sometimes it was hard, so we had to go off what we’ve been taught. I think they’re a really tough defense and came out to play.”
Saban said many of the pass plays came off run-pass options, and the passing lanes were open.
“A lot of the plays we ran today were called runs or RPOs. We end up passing because they played six guys in the box. It’s not the play call as much as it is the design of what we’re doing,” Saban said.
“We knew it was going to be a tough place to play out here. We knew we were going to have to play through the assault and keep on keeping on.”