South Carolina has landed several punches on No. 2 Alabama through one half. Unfortunately for a game ‘Cocks crew, several of those punches have missed the Tide and landed squarely on their own face, and as a result Alabama leads 24-10 at the half in Columbia.
Alabama accepted the ball to open the game and sliced 65 yards in five plays, scoring on a 24-yard Tua Tagovailoa toss to running back Najee Harris, and at that point it seemed the route was on.
South Carolina, however, did not agree. The Gamecocks pieced together a 14-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in a 44-yard Parker White field goal. Then South Carolina’s defense simply swallowed Alabama’s offense on its next possession, sacking Tagovailoa on first and third down. Skyler DeLong‘s punt went just 14 yards, handing South Carolina the ball and a golden opportunity to take the lead at Alabama’s 30.
The Tide defense forced its own three-and-out but, rather than try a 51-yard field goal, Will Muschamp called a beautiful fake field goal that went for a White touchdown, but the score was wiped off the board due to holding and the Gamecocks punted.
Alabama punished that mistake three plays later, when Tua hit Henry Ruggs III for an 81-yard touchdown to give the Crimson Tide a 14-3 lead at the 3:15 mark of the first quarter.
Once again knocked to the mat, South Carolina answered. This time, the Gamecocks went 75 yards in six snaps, scoring on a 31-yard toss from Ryan Hilinski (making his first career start) to Shi Smith.
The first quarter ended with the quarterbacks going 17-of-24 for 273 yards and three touchdowns and the teams rushing for 28 combined yards.
South Carolina limited another Alabama drive to a field goal to open the second quarter, but then committed another crucial special teams mistake. This time, an illegal shift penalty negated a punt that was downed at the 1-yard line; on the second attempt, Joseph Charlton booted it 55 yards to the 17, which Jaylen Waddle returned 18 yards to the 35, turning a 5-yard mark off into a 34-yard penalty.
The Gamecocks forced Alabama into a 4th-and-3 at its own 42, when Tua tossed it to Najee Harris and the former 5-star did the rest, shucking one tackler and hurdling another for a highlight reel touchdown.
Alabama forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession and then South Carolina committed its third special teams disaster of the first half. Sensing the game slipping away from him, Muschamp called a fake punt from his own 30, but the Tide’s coverage unit was not fooled at all and Alabama took over at the South Carolina 32.
This time, however, Alabama paid back the Gamecocks with a special teams miscue of its own — a 37-yard field goal that Will Reichard pushed wide left.
Needing a drive to remain in the game, South Carolina got one, moving .. On first-and-goal from the 4, Rico Dowdle dove into the end zone but was ruled down at the 1. However, replays showed Dowdle perhaps got into the end zone before his thigh hit the ground, but the play was not reviewed. Hilinski’s second down pass was incomplete, and he fumbled the third down snap for a loss of two. Rather than kick a field goal, Muschamp elected to go for a fourth down on the final play of the half and Hilinski’s pass was incomplete and the Gamecocks came up empty.
Tagovailoa closed the half 16-of-22 for 286 yards and three touchdowns, while Hilinski was 18-of-28 for 175 yards and a score. South Carolina leads the rushing battle, 27-26.