Florida vs. South Carolina score: Takeaways as No. 9 Gators survive upset bid

By Adam Silverstein
October 19, 2019
Florida vs. South Carolina score: Takeaways as No. 9 Gators survive upset bid

Image Credit: Twitter / GatorsFB

With a huge game looming and a bye week upcoming, the No. 9 Florida Gators knew Saturday’s road game against the South Carolina Gamecocks was a must-win. It did not seem as if Florida was playing that way over the first three quarters, but the Gators (7-1, 4-1 SEC) stepped up when it mattered in a 38-27 win over the Gamecocks (3-4, 2-3 SEC) in Columbia, South Carolina.

Florida did not lead until there was 9:54 left in the game, but it did match South Carolina shot-for-shot over most of the first three quarters. That does not mean the Gators escaped the Gamecocks without issue or injury. Quite the contrary. With that, let’s take a look at what we learned from Florida’s win on Saturday as it picked up another key SEC win.

1. The Gators got it together when it counted: It is clear that Florida is hurting defensively, which in turn puts the offense in a tough spot. But after trailing for the first 50:06 of the game, the Gators finally took a lead and refused to relinquish it. A tremendously patient throw by redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Trask and equally impressive diving catch by senior wide receiver Freddie Swain resulted in a 25-yard touchdown with 9:54 to play.

On the ensuing defensive series, redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Zachary Carter registered as sack-fumble and junior DL Kyrie Campbell fell onto the lose ball to give Florida a short-field scoring opportunity. Trask cashed in with a 5-yard throw to sophomore tight end Kyle Pitts, and the Gators used another short-field situation on their next series to score 21 straight points thanks to a Trask touchdown toss to junior WR Trevon Grimes.

Trask was rough early in the game as he struggled to grip the wet football but fell into a rhythm in the second half. He completed 21-of-33 passes for 200 yards and a career-high four touchdowns to go along with an air-mail interception that led to a South Carolina touchdown. It was not Trask’s best effort on Saturday despite the touchdown total, but his playmakers and even the offensive line on occasion stood up. The defense was inconsistent for the second straight week, but managed to step up when it counted.

2. Young playmakers step up: It has been tough sledding for redshirt freshman WR Jacob Copeland early in his young career. After missing his rookie season with injury, Copeland seemingly struggled to get a grip on the offense — or at least play the way his coaches demanded — early in 2019. There was an issue or two Saturday as well, but he also came through for Florida on more than one occasion. Copeland took a one-on-one jump ball early in the game and split a couple defenders for an impressive 37-yard touchdown that tied the game late before halftime. It was a crucial score for the Gators considering they had been behind nearly the entire half, and Copeland added two more key grabs for 89 total yards on the day.

Back from a concussion suffered two weeks ago, sophomore running back Dameon Pierce only had seven carries on the day … but he surely made the most of his first one. With the Gators again trailing just minutes out of the half, Pierce took a carry outside the left tackle and down the sideline for a massive 75-yard score. Senior WR Tyrie Cleveland provided tremendous downfield blocking (somewhat controversial as he had a hold of a defender’s jersey but also took a hand to his facemask on the play) to ensure Pierce had a lane to take it to the house. While the three late touchdowns by Florida’s veterans were key, it is not in the game without the contributions of Copeland and Pierce.

3. The defense needs to get healthy — and fast: It is abundantly clear that the Gators are hurting defensively without senior defensive ends Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zunia. Though Florida did manage three sacks, it struggled to rush the passer and — with an altered front-seven rotation due to their absences — was once again extremely vulnerable up the middle. Before being stymied late in the game, South Carolina feasted on the ground. Starting RB Rico Dowdle was lost early in the first quarter after a first-down run, but Tavien Feaster … feasted … on the Gators, taking 25 carries for 175 yards and a touchdown. Mon Denson added 58 yards and a score on 12 touches, giving the Gamecocks 241 yards on the ground from their running backs.

While the front seven struggled again, the secondary stepped up after a rough outing last week at LSU. Though Florida did drop two interceptions in the game, it held South Carolina starting QB Ryan Hilinski to 170 yards and a touchdown on 17-of-35 passing. Junior cornerback CJ Henderson (who had one dropped pick) also had a number of key run stops, and both redshirt sophomore CB Marco Wilson and sophomore defensive back Trey Dean III made big third-down plays.

Perhaps worst of all, the Gators suffered additional ailments in the game. Redshirt senior DL Adam Shuler, redshirt junior DL Marlon Dunlap Jr. and redshirt sophomore linebacker James Houston IV all went down at various times. That gives Florida five defensive front seven players to monitor. Also injured in the game was Grimes, who tweaked his left knee on an onside kick recovery.

4. Officiating was an issue both ways: It was a tale of two halves not only for the Gators but the SEC officials. Over the first 30 minutes, Florida could not buy a call. In addition to shooting itself in the foot with a pair of legitimate offsides calls in the red zone, the defense was frequently held by the South Carolina offensive line and saw SC get a gift of a first-down spot early in the game. Offensively, the Gators missed a clear offsides and defensive pass interference on the Gamecocks early, two occasions in which the visitors wound up punting.

Once the second half began, all of the calls seemed to go the opposite direction. South Carolina was upset about the aforementioned Cleveland hold, but its own player gripped his facemask on the play, too. The officials did clearly miss an offensive pass interference on the pick play that resulted in Pitts’ touchdown as well as a false start on the score — the latter happens. From there, fans seemed to be upset about every call that did not go their way, though most of them down the stretch were called correctly. Still, this is the third game in which UF has experienced rough SEC officiating, and the league needs to do something about it.

5. Odds and ends: Florida improved to 28-9-3 all-time against South Carolina with an 12-7-1 mark in Columbia and victories in four of the last five overall meetings … UF is 2-1 against the Will Muschamp-coached SC … the Gators are outscoring opponents 147-55 in the second half and 85-21 in the fourth quarter this season … Florida has scored 24+ points in 12 straight games for the first time since 2007-09

6. Up next: The Gators will “enjoy” a bye week that will mostly be spent trying to get all of their injured players rehabilitated in time for their next showdown. No. 9 Florida and No. 10 Georgia will square off in two weeks at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, Florida.

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