COLUMBIA --- All the ingredients were in place for the biggest win in South Carolina football history.
The No. 1 team in the nation, Alabama, was the opponent for the nationally televised game.
ESPN's College Gameday crew set up in Columbia, and 82,993 fans packed Williams-Brice Stadium.
This time, the Gamecocks and quarterback Stephen Garcia delivered.
Garcia turned in the best performance of his career with three touchdowns on pinpoint passing, and the Gamecocks whipped the Crimson Tide, 35-21.
"I guess it couldn't have come at a better time," Garcia said of his 17 for 20 effort. "The crowd was really into it, and I think we responded unbelievably well to the questions that were asked of us from everyone."
Those questions surfaced two weeks ago at Auburn when Steve Spurrier yanked Garcia late in the game after he lost a pair of fumbles. Freshman Connor Shaw came in and threw two interceptions, and the Gamecocks suffered their first loss of the season.
Garcia, who has had a stormy career in Columbia, responded with his finest effort to date.
"Stephen Garcia played the best he's ever played," Spurrier said.
In front of a delirious home crowd, Garcia and the Gamecocks answered every challenge Alabama threw their way. It was the most impressive win in school history, at least by rank, since the Gamecocks began playing in 1892. South Carolina had never defeated a No. 1 team in football in four previous tries; its biggest scalp had been No. 3 North Carolina in 1981.
Garcia completed all nine of his passes in the first half, and three of them went for touchdowns as the Gamecocks led 21-9 at halftime.
But South Carolina got off to a shaky start in the second half. Garcia misplayed the first snap from scrimmage and it bounced toward the end zone, but he recovered it and threw it out of the end zone for a safety.
"I think I hit the goal post," he said. "They said that was my first incompletion of the game."
Alabama then marched down to score a field goal and pull to 21-14, and the momentum was clearly in the Crimson Tide's favor.
Garcia and the Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) responded with a 15-play drive that covered 82 yards. More importantly, it chewed up 7:55 off the clock. Garcia connected with favorite targets Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley for key third-down conversions, and freshman running back Marcus Lattimore punched it in from the 1 to put the Gamecocks ahead 28-14.
Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) made one last gasp. Darius Hanks hauled in a 51-yard pass from Greg McElroy to pull the Tide to 28-21. After Garcia's attempt to Jeffery was intercepted, Alabama took over at the Gamecocks' 37.
But South Carolina's defense, which had shut down Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and backfield mate Trent Richardson, held again. Alabama coach Nick Saban tried a fake field goal, but the pass fell incomplete.
After taking over, South Carolina drove for its final score. Jeffery made a one-handed catch to add to his highlight reel, and he raced 45 yards to Alabama 6. Three plays later, Lattimore burst through the line to put South Carolina ahead 35-21.
"We probably didn't make a good call on the fake," Saban said. "That was right on the edge of (Jeremy) Shelly's range. It gave them the momentum of the game back."
Ingram finished with 41 yards rushing, and Richardson could muster only 23.
"I don't think guys were ready to come out here," Ingram said. "I think guys thought they could just show up and we'd win and that's not the case at all. We knew that South Carolina was going to be a great team and play great football."
Spurrier, who won SEC titles and a national championship during his Florida days, acknowledged that it was his biggest win since coming to Columbia in 2005.
"We had to play ball today. We played till the end and we looked up and we had beaten No. 1 by a couple of touchdowns," Spurrier said.