Comeback too much to ask for

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Drew Hoover

South Carolina senior cornerback Chris Culliver tackles Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy during the Gamecocks’ 35-21 victory over the Crimson Tide Saturday. McElroy was sacked seven times in the game. CW | Drew Hoover

Laura Owens

It finally caught up.

A team can put together only so many come-from-behind victories. And then one game, it won’t be enough.

For the Alabama Crimson Tide, this was that game. For the third straight SEC road game, Alabama fell behind early. The first time was last season against Auburn, when the Tigers jumped to an early 14-0 lead. But the offense put together one final drive of poise to win it 26-21.

The second time was two weeks ago against No. 10 Arkansas in Fayetteville. After going into halftime down 17-7, the defense made big plays, while the offense stepped up its game to score. Alabama stayed perfect by a final of 24-20.

But this time, it just wasn’t enough. This time, it was too much to ask from a young defense and an offense that couldn’t produce. There were moments when Alabama showed flashes of coming back, like when Darius Hanks caught a 51-yard touchdown reception, and then right after on defense Wilson Lowery picked off Stephen Garcia’s pass.

The offense couldn’t turn the turnover into points, and then a fake field goal really swung the momentum back to South Carolina. They scored in the subsequent drive to put the victory out of reach.

“We probably didn’t make a very good call on the fake,” said head coach Nick Saban. “That’s right on the edge of [Jeremy] Shelley’s range, but it did give them the momentum of the game back, and we could’ve taken points right there. Not that it would’ve affected the outcome of the game because we never got them stopped.”

So what happened to this team so that it hasn’t been able to show domination on the road lately? Saban’s answer:

“We had played pretty well on the road up until the Auburn game last year, I thought, and I don’t know,” he said. “I think this year’s team is different than last year’s team. I think [when] we played Auburn last year, this team was tired, we had had a short week. We didn’t get off to a very good start.

“I think this team needs to mature and play with more confidence because early in two games we were very sporadic defensively in terms of our ability to execute.”

When the shock of it wears off, then it’s time to face the facts: Alabama hasn’t lost a regular season game since 2007. The players aren’t used to this feeling.

“It hurts,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “As I said before, it hurts.”

Now it’s time to go back to practice and fix the tendency to fall behind early on the road. Saban gave his players credit for their abilities to come back in the situations the team has fallen behind in. But to win, that just isn’t always enough.

“You gotta be able to punch them in first round,” Saban said. “You can’t counter punch them and think you’re always going to be able to make it right, and it caught up to us today.”

Quarterback Greg McElroy looked to the future, towards what this team needs to do next.

“What can we learn from it?” he said. “You have to look at the glass half-full in this situation. It’s early in the season. We can still accomplish everything we want to accomplish. It’s an opportunity for everyone individually to look in the mirror and say, ‘How are we going to get back? How are we going to do better? How can we recommit ourselves to this team?’

“That’s the question that every individual needs to ask themselves. If I were to guess, this team should bounce back from this. We’re going to have a lot of wins down the road. This is going to be a great learning experience.”