TUSCALOOSA, Ala. | That was not so bad.
Thanks to a defense that forced four turnovers and kept Alabama out of the end zone for most of the game, South Carolina showed well to a national television audience against the nation's No. 2-ranked team. In the end it was a shame USC could not pull off the upset.
It was a shame because USC's defense put the Gamecocks in position to win, despite making Mark Ingram look like Darren McFadden, the Arkansas running back who went for 321 yards against USC two seasons ago.
Ingram rolled up 246 yards rushing, including all 68 in Alabama's only touchdown drive in the game's waning minutes. Otherwise, the USC defense produced a winning performance. To beat a nationally ranked opponent like Alabama, it takes a defense that might bend and bend and bend, but one that holds when it needs to most.
That was USC's defense on Saturday.
"The defense hung in there," Steve Spurrier said afterward. "They kept the point total down. Our pass defense was outstanding."
The defense forced normally reliable Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy into a miserable evening. He completed 10 of 22 passes for 92 yards and threw two interceptions. McElroy had not thrown an interception in his previous 141 attempts before USC's Shaq Wilson picked off McElroy's first attempt.
"Who's McElroy?" free safety Chris Culliver said rather flippantly afterward when asked how much the USC defense played into the Alabama quarterback's misery.
Culliver, in fact, might have spoken for the USC defense when he said it was not particularly impressed with Alabama.
"For them to be the second team in the nation and all that hype, they should be better than that," he said. "We stayed with them all the way."
USC stayed with Alabama because the Crimson Tide did not get into the end zone until five minutes remained in the game. By then, the Gamecocks were a tired bunch.
"They played with a lot of character, played hard, played tough," said Ellis Johnson, USC's assistant coach for defense of his unit. "Obviously, a little bit of a mismatch. The biggest thing we didn't do well is we gave up too many breakaway runs early in the game. It was from over-pursuing and missed tackles and things like that.
"Late in the game, we just got wore out. We couldn't get them off the field. We had a lot of fatigue, a lot of broken tackles."
Ingram bulled his way into the end zone from 4 yards out to give the game its final 14-point margin.
But even if USC's defense had held Alabama's offense out of the end zone, the Gamecocks were not going to win. That is because USC's offense could manage only a pair of sustained drives. One went for 63 yards and resulted in a first-half field goal, and the other went for 71 yards and stalled at the Alabama 4 in the game's final seconds.
Otherwise, it was a case of missed opportunities for USC's offense.
As it reflects on the loss, USC will talk about what might have been. What might have been had USC been able to seize opportunities. What might have been had USC been able to get the ball into the end zone.
USC never scored following one of Alabama's four turnovers. It lost 17 yards after picking off an Alabama pass. It gained 2 yards and punted following an Alabama fumble. It gained 21 yards following another Alabama fumble, then missed a long field-goal. The other Alabama turnover was immediately given back to the Tide.
For the most part, USC's offense was inept. It managed a couple of first-half field goals, but Spurrier has long said a team cannot kick field goals and expect to win, especially against a team of Alabama's caliber.
"We knew what they were going to do," USC quarterback Stephen Garcia said of Alabama's defense, which limited him to 20-of-46 passing for 214 yards and shut down the USC running game (64 yards).
"We didn't capitalize on a lot of things," Garcia said. "They were beatable. We knew that the whole week. We've got a pretty good team here ourselves."
USC should take those words to heart. It has been a team all season that has failed to combine a stout defensive showing with a solid offensive output. Perhaps that is the sign of a young team, or one that lacks consistency.
The defense proved again Saturday that it can play well enough to keep USC in games, even against the nation's best. Should the day ever come when the offense plays at the same level on the same day, look out. USC might then pull off the upset against an Alabama.