Tomorrow evening brings us to Tuscaloosa, AL to take on what is undisputably one of the best teams in the country. The nation's eyes will be on us and a win in this game would be one of the biggest in our program's history. Can we do it? The odds are stacked against us, but I think we have a chance. Here's what I think we have to do to get it done.
1.The Offense Must Break Through
Overall, I would say that this team has executed a veritable sea-change in its offensive play since 2008. However, a number of shortcomings have kept it from truly breaking through. Those include penalties, poor red-zone offense (oftentimes related to the penalties), and, last week, a couple of turnovers. (We can all agree, though, that our turnover margin is much improved overall from last year.) We can't have any of these problems hold us back this week. With their defense, the Tide won't give us much. Therefore, we need to play near-perfect, mistake-free offensive ball. We need to limit the penalties. We need to have no turnovers. And perhaps most importantly, we need to convert touchdowns when we have the chance. I have some hope that we can do these things after watching us come close several times. The key, perhaps, will be for our injury-ravaged offensive line to play the game of its life.
2. Big Plays
Conventional wisdom in a game like this--one that matches up a pretty good team against a great one--is for the pretty good team to try to keep it close until late in the game. At that point, the underdog can make its move. And I do think, if our team plays its best, that we can do that. However, I'm not sure that I trust us to win if we simply go out there, play relatively conservatively, and try to slug it out with 'Bama. The Tide have greater depth than us and an offense that's designed to pull away late in tight games. Therefore, while we should avoid tempting the gods, we should take some risks early. A flurry of early scores that not only keeps it close but gives us a lead is what this team needs to go into the fourth quarter with a winnable ball game on its hands.
3. Stephon Gilmore
I see Gilmore's play as absolutely essential to this game. Why? Because he's going to have to cover Julio Jones man-to-man. Conventional wisdom would suggest that we should use zone coverage to slow down Jones, but I just don't see that as an option, as 'Bama's well-tuned rushing offense will gash any zone we throw at them. Moreover, we probably need a turnover or two to win this game. That's why Ellis Johnson will--or at least should, from where I'm sitting--sell out to stop the 'Bama run and pressure Greg McElroy, leaving Jones all up to Gilmore. We recruited Gilmore to be the next great corner at DBU, and this is his time to show us how good he can be. Can he stop Jones all night? Probably not. But if he can cover Jones well enough to prevent any huge plays and to allow our front line time to do what it needs to do for us to win this game, he'll have done his job.
Our first win against 'Bama.
After a somewhat sluggish performance last week in which I thought the team might have been looking ahead to this week's game, I expect you'll see us focused and playing our best this week. That should equal a tight game in which we bid for the upset. I really do think this team is capable of challenging 'Bama; this South Carolina team is probably the best overall team Spurrier has had here. We have a very good defense and an offense that seems to get a little better each week. We're really not that far from being able to compete with the 'Bamas and Floridas of the world.
That said, we're still not quite on that level. Without a screw-up or two by 'Bama, I don't see us being able to beat the Tide, especially with the game being in their house. Unfortunately, 'Bama is a well-coached team that isn't going to give us anything, so I have a hard time seeing us winning. The game will be close, though; I'm going with 27-21 Tide. I'll be satisfied with that. While I'd love to win this one, if we can at least maintain our dignity better than the Tide's other opponents have done, we'll have some momentum going into the rest of our schedule, in which we'll still be in position to accomplish our goal of an eight- or nine-win season.