The No. 1 Florida Gators (10-0, 8-0 SEC) completed their first perfect Southeastern Conference season since 1996 with a 24-14 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks (6-5, 3-5 SEC) in Columbia, SC, at Williams-Brice Stadium. Senior quarterback Tim Tebow accomplished a feat of his own on Saturday, tying the SEC touchdown record with a rushing score in the fourth quarter.
The Gators went up 7-0 early in the first quarter after Tebow threw a slant to wide receiver Riley Cooper who took it for 68 yards into the end zone. It would not take long for the Gamecocks to answer, as running back Brian Maddox capped a 14-play, 84-yard drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game. Florida kept up the pressure, adding a 32-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Caleb Sturgis and a 17-yard rushing score from redshirt junior Emmanuel Moody to take a 10-point lead with 10:28 left in the second quarter.
From there, things started to unravel for the Gators. After recovering a fumble, UF was hardly able to move the ball, and Sturgis missed a 52-yard field goal attempt. The Gamecocks capitalized with another lengthy drive that resulted in a nine-yard passing touchdown from QB Stephen Garcia to tight end Weslye Saunders. Florida would then, on consecutive drives, punt twice, miss a 54-yard field goal and turn the ball over on downs after Tebow was stopped on a dive play around midfield.
With South Carolina threatening to score and in the middle of an 11-play, 49-yard drive that began at 6:29 in the third quarter, junior defensive tackle Justin Trattou intercepted a tipped pass thrown by Garcia and returned it 53 yards to the Gamecocks’ 26 yard line. The Gators would turn that miscue into Tebow’s record-tying score, going back up by 10 with a quarter to play. Struggling to get to Garcia all day, Florida’s defense – led by senior defensive end Jermaine Cunningham – would record four of its six sacks in the fourth quarter. Junior cornerback Joe Haden (who also had two forced fumbles and 11 tackles on the day) intercepted Garcia and returned the ball 20 yards with 3:19 left to ice the game.
After the game, Gators head coach Urban Meyer called Trattou’s interception one of the greatest plays in Florida football history. Trattou, who is playing with a torn left biceps, was humble in accepting praise for his heads-up play. “Every week, someone has to step up,” Trattou said. “It’s usually someone different each week. Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier was candid when discussing Trattou’s game-changing play. “That turnover took a lot of steam [out of us],” Spurrier said. “Give Florida credit. They played pretty well. I don’t know if by their standards they thought they played super.”
Florida finishes its 2009 regular season schedule with two consecutive nonconference games against the Florida International University Golden Panthers and Florida State Seminoles. The Gators will then head to Atlanta, GA, to face the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship game.
– South Carolina wore camouflage uniforms created by Under Armor to honor veterans hurt defending the United States as part of the Wounded Warrior Project. After his touchdown pass, Garcia saluted the crowd in keeping with the theme of the day.
– In addition to missing two field goals beyond 50 yards, Sturgis placed a kickoff out of bounds and pulled a 28-yard field goal wide left in the fourth quarter, finishing only one-for-four on the day.
– The Gamecocks attempted a fake punt in the first quarter that would have been successful save for an illegal shift penalty.
– Cooper had two additional scoring opportunities in the game, missing one catch that was slightly overthrown in the end zone and plainly dropping another in a similar spot.