I got together with Roll Bama Roll's outsidethelines for a little tete-a-tete to preview this game. Here's what he had to say. My answers to his questions are forthcoming at RBR. (UPDATE: My answers are here.)
1. One of the big question marks for Alabama coming into this season was Greg McElroy. Obviously, McElroy has turned out to be a pretty good player. How do you feel about your quarterback situation at this point in the season and what should South Carolina expect from the Tide passing game?
It's hard to not feel very good about McElroy at quarterback. He's been a smart quarterback, moved well in the pocket, been accurate in his throws, stretched the field vertically, and has generally done everything that you would want your quarterback to do. He hasn't been entirely perfect, though, and did struggle last week against Ole Miss, but I don't think it's really anything overly unexpected. The Rebels have a good defense, and McElroy was going to experience some growing pains at some point. As for against South Carolina, I expect McElroy to have his typical solid-to-good day, so long as we can keep Norwood and Matthews from overly harassing him.
2. Alabama has one of the best rushing attacks in the SEC, while South Carolina had trouble slowing down Kentucky last weekend. Will 'Bama move the ball well on the ground against South Carolina, and if so, how?
(2) If we will commit to running the football -- which we didn't do last week -- then I imagine we'll have a good bit of success on the ground against the Gamecocks. Perhaps I'm wrong, but with Ingram and Richardson in tow, it's hard not to feel optimistic after watching South Carolina State and Kentucky combine for almost 400 yards against you guys. As for how we look to move the ball, expect to see lots of runs out of the Pistol and the shotgun... we operate out of those two sets probably about 75-80% of the time now, and you see a nice mix of both inside and outside runs.
3. Despite moving the ball fairly effectively, Alabama had problems putting the ball in the end zone against Ole Miss. What caused these problems, and could they continue against South Carolina?
(3) The problems in the red zone against Ole Miss were poor play-calling, penalties, and carelessness handling the football. A couple of drives stalled because we got too pass-happy near the goal line, another ended because of a false start penalty, two more ended with fumbles, plus we had one dropped touchdown pass. It was extremely frustrating to watch us continue to be completely unable to punch it across the goal line, but by the same token it did seem like the reasons we were unable to do so were largely one-off happenings that largely won't re-occur in the future. We basically shot ourselves in the foot all afternoon against Ole Miss, and I imagine we have a bit of a regression to the mean against the Gamecocks. We won't necessarily be an unstoppable juggernaut in the red zone, mind you, but I don't look for a repeat of the struggles against Ole Miss either.
4. South Carolina has had an efficient but not spectacular offense this year. The key to slowing down South Carolina, though, is to pressure play tight man coverage and to pressure the quarterback. How well will 'Bama do these things and how?
(4) We play a pretty good bit of man (though perhaps not as much as many think), and I imagine we'll continue to use our typical mix of cover schemes. We always throw a million different looks at opponents, and I don't see any reason to think Saban will change that long-held strategy this weekend against South Carolina. The real key, like you mentioned, will be the pass rush, and I think that's where we likely take control of this game. We've got some great players on the defensive line, and it's probably the deepest unit in the country to boot. We rotate players constantly and wear down opponents, and given South Carolina's struggles on the offensive line, I really like our chances of taking over this game at the line of scrimmage. I do think South Carolina has some great skill position players on the outside, and we'll probably see a fight to the draw there, but I look for our defensive line to take advantage of your offensive line.
5. If you could have one South Carolina player, who would it be?
(5) Eric Norwood, and it's not even close to anyone else. Not only is he a great player in his own right, he would be the ideal replacement for Dont'a Hightower at the Will linebacker position. I'd probably take Norwood over literally every single other player in the conference, including Tebow.
6. Prediction. Who will win and how will it go down?
(6) I think 'Bama wins this one, but doesn't cover the spread. I'm not exactly expecting a nailbiter, but by the same token I don't think this one will be a blowout by any stretch. South Carolina will fight hard and they have some good players, but I do think 'Bama is the better team and that will ultimately show. I say the Tide gets a relatively comfortable, by SEC standards, victory somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 points.