The No. 10/11 South Carolina Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2 SEC) withstood a ground-and-pound attack by the Florida Gators (4-6, 3-5 SEC) on Saturday evening at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, shutting out and therefore outscoring the visitors 13-0 in the second half to pull out a 19-14 victory.
The outcome left the Gators having dropped five games in a row for the first time since 1979 and losing for the first time under the leadership of head coach Will Muschamp when rushing for 150 yards or more in a game (previously 15-0). Florida also lost for just the second time under Muschamp when leading at the half (previously 18-1).
Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor led the way for UF with 21 carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns. USC only scored one touchdown on the evening but connected on 5-of-6 field goals to put its SEC East rivals away.
South Carolina opened up with the ball and was the first to strike, using a 39-yard completion from quarterback Connor Shaw to wide receiver Damiere Byrd – one of two big third-down conversions on the drive – to get on the board. The Gamecocks stalled in the red zone after Gators redshirt junior linebacker Ronald Powell sacked Shaw for a five-yard loss on 3rd-and-Goal at the two, settling for a 25-yard field goal.
Florida was uncharacteristically quick to answer, running 10 times on an 11-play, 67-yard trek that saw the ball cross the goal line. Redshirt sophomore running back Valdez Showers gained 25 yards on a sweep during the drive, and Taylor took a direct snap sweep off the right tackle on 3rd-and-14 from the 20 into the end zone for a touchdown.
Taking 7:18 off the clock, the score marked UF’s first opening drive touchdown since the season-opener against Toledo. It was also the first time the Gators led in a game since holding a brief advantage over LSU on Oct. 12.
USC moved right down the field on its second possession but was once again stopped short and forced kicked a 45-yard field goal to move within one point of the visitors.
The Gators did not waste any time to take advantage of the situation. Facing 4th-and-4 at the Gamecocks’ 37, Florida shifted out of a punt formation and drew South Carolina offsides, gaining the first down. Two plays later, Taylor took another direct snap, cut back behind the line of scrimmage and broke free for a 29-yard score.
On its final drive of the first half, the Gamecocks utilized a short field to once again put themselves in scoring possession, but a missed 38-yard field goal left the Gators ahead 14-6 at the break. It was the first time UF led at the half since Oct. 5 against Arkansas and the most first-half points the team had scored dating back to that contest.
Florida looked like it had once again stopped South Carolina short of the goal line during its first drive of the second half. Facing 4th-and-3 at UF’s 32, Shaw rolled out right and was nearly taken down but threw across his body instead and found WR Bruce Ellington in the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown reception.
Leading by one, the Gators had a chance to increase their advantage but failed at the tail end of an 11-play, 61-yard drive. On 3rd-and-Goal from the Gamecocks’ eight-yard line, UF ran the ball and lost six yards before redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin badly shanked a 32-yard field goal wide left.
Backed up on its own five-yard line with 9:32 left in the game, South Carolina got its biggest play of the evening when RB Shon Carson broke free up the middle for a 58-yard run down to Florida’s 37. A 31-yard catch by tight end Rory Anderson – the game’s best play – brought USC inside the five, but the Gamecocks only put three points on the board with a 22-yard field goal to jump ahead 16-14 with 6:43 to play.
In a last-ditch effort to regain their lead, the Gators attempted a pass play out of a punt formation on 4th-and-13 at their own 32-yard line. Senior RB Trey Burton took the snap and looked for redshirt junior defensive tackle Leon Orr, who was unable to adjust to the throw and saw it bounce off his fingers incomplete.
Following a 43-yard field goal that put South Carolina ahead 19-14, Florida had one final chance to win the game. Mornhinweg passed five times on the ensuing series, which started with 2:16 remaining, and got the Gators out to the home 48-yard line, but his final toss was picked off to effectively end the game.
A victory Saturday would have meant a legitimate chance at finishing the season 6-6 and reaching a bowl game for the 23rd-straight season. Instead, Florida’s only chance is to beat its final two opponents – Georgia Southern and undefeated Florida State.
UF hosts GSU on Saturday, Nov. 23 in a 2 p.m. game that airs live on pay-per-view.
Photo Credit: Richard Shrio/Associated Press