A hard-fought Southeastern Conference battled turned into a one-sided blowout on Saturday when the No. 2 Florida Gators, led by a career-high four touchdown pass performance by sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, trampled the No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks 44-11 in Gainesville, FL.
On a day in which ESPN’s College GameDay emanated live from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida (7-0, 6-0 SEC) proved that it is a new team in year two under head coach Will Muschamp, preventing head coach Steve Spurrier and South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC) from winning a third-straight game in the annual series.
The Gators turned three fumble recoveries into 21 first-half points and went five-for-five in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on every trip as they put the SEC East crown within their grasp pending the outcome of next week’s game against Georgia.
Florida started the game on fire as sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy forced a fumble that was recovered on the South Carolina two-yard line by redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray on the first play from scrimmage. Faced with a third down, Driskel hit redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed for a short touchdown to give UF a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the game.
Read the rest of the game story and watch video highlights…after the break!
The Gators forced another fumble on the ensuing kickoff, but the Gamecocks recovered and were soon forced to punt. However, a rarely-called roughing the snapper personal foul was called on freshman LB Antonio Morrison to extend the drive, and redshirt junior Will LB Jelani Jenkins was also flagged for a personal foul when he tried to avoid but still hit sliding QB Connor Shaw. USC eventually stalled in the red zone and kicked a 36-yard field goal to conclude a 15-play, 61-yard drive.
After trading punts, Florida took over at South Carolina’s 41-yard line near the end of the first quarter. On first down, Driskel completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to redshirt senior TE Omarius Hines, but the score was wiped out by a personal foul chop block penalty on senior running back Mike Gillislee. UF committed three personal foul penalties for 45 lost yards in the first quarter alone; those miscues led to a 10-point swing in the game including the lost touchdown and USC field goal.
The Gamecocks took their next drive 52 yards in 11 plays before stalling at the Gators’ 28-yard line. South Carolina would not get any points on the board, however, as Florida junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd blocked a 45-yard field goal attempt.
Instead of getting great field position, UF took over at its own nine-yard line after redshirt senior DT Earl Okine touched the ball, which was lying back on the field after the block. The Gators were forced to punt three plays later, but junior RB Trey Burton forced a fumble and recovered the punt at the Gamecocks’ 29-yard line. Florida then engineered a six-play, 29-yard drive capped by a 13-yard passing touchdown from Driskel to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Quinton Dunbar.
On the ensuing kickoff, Gators junior WR Solomon Patton forced a fumble, which was recovered by sophomore RB Chris Johnson and brought down to the one-yard line. Two plays later, Driskel threw his third touchdown pass of the game, this one a one-yard lob to Reed in the middle of the end zone that resulted in a 21-3 lead for Florida.
South Carolina would cut into that lead before the half, however, as another costly penalty (offsides on McCray) negated a big interception by Jenkins and gave the Gamecocks the opportunity to connect on a 51-yard field goal to end the half.
Having deferred until the second half, UF received the ball after the break and immediately engineered a 10-play, 59-yard touchdown drive capped by a six-yard rushing touchdown by Hines off of a double inside hand-off. The Gators would not get the full seven points, however, as redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis’s extra point was blocked and returned by USC for two points.
After forcing another punt, Florida drove down inside South Carolina’s territory thanks to a 39-yard reception by Reed. The Gators were forced to settle for a 42-yard field goal, which Sturgis converted to give his team a 30-8 lead with 4:51 left in the third quarter.
Faced with a short field after taking over at USC’s 44, Florida extended its lead to 37-8 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter by capping a seven-play drive with a six-yard touchdown pass from Driskel to redshirt senior WR Frankie Hammond, Jr.
Having benched Shaw and brought in QB Dylan Thompson early in the second half, South Carolina stalled on its next few drives but eventually added a third field goal at the end of a 10-play, 68-yard drive that concluded with 7:17 remaining on the clock.
Reed recovered the ensuing onside kick for the Gators but, instead of falling down, returned it 35 yards down to the Gamecocks’ 11-yard line. Freshman RB Matt Jones then carried the ball three times, scoring the first touchdown of his career to extend UF’s lead to 44-11 with less than six minutes to play.
Two other Florida players recorded firsts on Saturday as freshman Buck LB Dante Fowler, Jr. picked up a sack and sophomore CB Jabari Gorman grabbed an interception late in the second half.
The Gators held the Gamecocks to just 183 total yards but also produced only 191 yards themselves. Driskel went 11-for-16 for 93 yards (his third-straight game with less than 100 yards passing), while Gillislee carried the ball 19 times for just 37 yards and Reed led the way with 44 yards on four receptions.
Also instrumental for UF on Saturday was sophomore punter Kyle Christy, who booted a long of 62 yards and averaged an astounding 54.3 yards per punt on seven kicks over the course of the game.
Florida also won the time of possession battle 35:28-24:32 but had penalty problems once again, committing seven for a loss of 74 yards while South Carolina was flagged just thrice for 26 yards. The Gators were 7-of-16 on third-down conversions and held the Gamecocks to 3-of-14 in such situations.
With the SEC East title on the line, Florida will meet Georgia next week in Jacksonville, FL. The game will air live on CBS at 3:30 p.m.
Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press