A 23-20 overtime defeat at the hands of the South Carolina Gamecocks (5-5, 3-5 SEC) cost the Florida Gators (5-4, 4-4 SEC) plenty on Saturday and may ultimately result in a change in the job status of head coach Will Muschamp.
Florida aimed to “take back The Swamp” against South Carolina, looking to reverse its fortunes at home and avoid dropping three-straight contests at Florida Field for the second-straight season. Instead, the Gators floundered in the fourth quarter at overtime with the coaches and players all contributing to a meltdown that should have ripple effects over the next few days, weeks and months.
AN ALL-AROUND MELTDOWN
Florida’s failures were multiple on Saturday. They started and ended with the coaching staff, but the Gators on the field were not above blame either, despite UF’s defense making a number of crucial stops in the fourth quarter.
In the end, a coach who played not to lose – lost, and a team that had a game well in hand did not make the plays they needed to actually win it. Here are seven things that went wrong over the fourth quarter and in overtime.
Leading 17-10 entering the fourth quarter with the ball at South Carolina’s 34-yard line, the Gators had their first opportunity to extend their lead; instead, (1 – players) freshman quarterback Treon Harris fumbled after converting a third down.
A fourth-down stop at midfield gave Florida its second chance to extend the lead, and though the Gators were unable to move the ball, a perfect punt from senior Kyle Christy (downed inside the USC two) put UF in great position again.
The Gators’ defense earned the offense another possession, but (2 – coaches) Florida chose not to throw the ball a single time, settling for a 32-yard field goal attempt after stalling at the Gamecocks’ 15 following six-straight runs. That attempt was (3 – players) blocked as redshirt senior kicker Frankie Velez booted the ball low and South Carolina got great penetration through the line.
Another fourth-down stop by the Gators’ defense – at the Florida 41 with 2:22 to play – not only gave UF the ball back but allowed the hosts to run out the clock as long as they could achieve a first down (as USC had a timeout in its pocket). Instead, the Gators (4 – coaches) ran the ball thrice more – including on 3rd and 3 for a loss of five yards – and settled on allowing Christy to boot the ball down the field with 39 seconds remaining. That did not go so well for Florida, as (5 – players) Christy’s punt was blocked, giving South Carolina one last possession on the UF 34.
“We were in a look that we should have kicked it out the other way and we didn’t, as far as the protection was concerned,” Muschamp said. “They came free on it and we needed to get the ball of quicker. That was a situation where that shouldn’t have happened.”
The Gamecocks scored, forcing overtime. South Carolina then won the coin toss, declaring that it was up to Florida to try and score a touchdown on its first overtime possession. The Gators were unable to do so, (6 – coaches) predictably running on first and second down and then (7 – coaches) throwing behind the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 3. UF’s 35-yard field goal, off the leg of redshirt sophomore Austin Hardin, went through the uprights but was not enough as USC drove right down the field for the game-winning touchdown to clinch the overtime victory.
After the loss, Muschamp did not directly answer a question about Florida’s overly-conservative play-calling but did not think it mattered when it came to the game’s result.
“We felt like we just tried to continue to… We put ourselves in a position to win that game, bottom line. You don’t get the punt blocked, you win the game. That’s the bottom line. We did what we had to do to win the game. We put ourselves in the position and we didn’t get it done,” he said.
“WE HAD EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO WIN”
With Saturday’s loss, the Gators have now dropped 14 of their last 27 games, a striking number considering Urban Meyer only lost 15 total contests in his six years at Florida.
UF is also 5-11 dating back to Oct. 12, 2013 with six losses in its last eight games in The Swamp, including four to SEC opponents (two on homecoming), one to an FCS team in Georgia Southern, and another to rival Florida State.
Overall, the Gators are just 17-8 at The Swamp under Muschamp, 9-7 combined against SEC teams and FSU with periods of three consecutive losses at Florida Field in each of the last two seasons.
Simply put, it’s unacceptable, especially when two of Florida’s defeats this year came exceptionally late in games the Gators otherwise should have won. Muschamp acknowledged that in his post-game press conference, responding, “Yeah, LSU,” when asked what other game in his career he was shocked to lose after being sure his team would pull out a victory.
“3:30 to play in the game and you get two kicks blocked, that’ll lose you a football game. We had every opportunity to win,” he said to open up his presser.
“You get two blocked kicks with 3:30 to go play in the game, it’ll cost you a football game. I don’t know what else to say other than that. We got 40 seconds to go, just get the ball off; operation time issue on the field goal and a low kick – it didn’t matter what the operation time was, it would’ve been blocked anyway.
“Very disappointed to lose that football game. Our guys fought and played hard, put ourselves in the position to get it done and we didn’t get it done.”
Florida no longer has anything to play for except pride this season. The Gators’ outside chances of winning the SEC East burst into flames, and while Florida can (and most likely will) become bowl eligible if it beats Eastern Kentucky next weekend on Senior Day, it now appears unlikely that Muschamp will be coaching the team when it plays in that game. He, of course, feels otherwise.
“I’m going to coach this football team. We’ll move on and get ready for the next one. That’s what I’ll do and that’s what our staff will do and our team will do. I’ll let [the media] speculate [about my job],” he said.
Asked what the Gators have left to play for, Muschamp responded: “You’re playing for the University of Florida, and you keep playing hard.”
The problem? Muschamp is asking the men he commands to play hard when he has proven over and again not to trust half of them – those on offense – to get the job done when it matters the most, at the end of games. It’s a philosophy that contributed to UF’s loss on Saturday and may ultimately wind up costing him his job.