Florida vs. South Carolina score, takeaways: Gators destroy Gamecocks, clinch bowl eligibility

By OnlyGators.com Staff
November 12, 2022
Florida vs. South Carolina score, takeaways: Gators destroy Gamecocks, clinch bowl eligibility

Image Credit: UAA

The Florida Gators started hot and never cooled off Saturday night in The Swamp with head coach Billy Napier capturing the most decisive win of his career at Florida with a 38-6 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks. Jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, the Gators cruised to bowl eligibility for the fourth straight year and 32nd time in the last 34 seasons.

Florida ran up and down the field on South Carolina, outgaining the visitors 374-44 on the ground for a 515-237 overall yardage advantage. At one point, three Gators had run for 100 yards each, though sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson lost 4 yards on a sack in the fourth quarter. It would have been the first time three Florida players each crossed the 100-yard rushing threshold since 1984.

“This game in particular, if you take a look at how you beat South Carolina, you gotta win the line of scrimmages and the edges. You gotta run the ball and you gotta stop the run. We certainly did that today,” Napier said. “… We did what we needed to win the game.”

Beyond bowl eligibility, which was the Gators’ top goal in their home finale at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida continued its superb play coming out of its difficult loss to No. 1 Georgia. The defense has not allowed a point through six quarters, and the Gators’ starters have not committed a turnover in four games.

Let’s take a look at everything that went down on Senior Day as Florida got revenge for last season’s blowout defeat with an equally dominant victory 12 months later.

Not as close as the score suggests

The Gators were so much more dominant than the 32-point margin indicates. Not to start on a negative note, but it’s important to put the final score in context as Florida allowed six points on special teams and left at least six — but really more like 25 — on the board due to its continued red-zone woes.

Leading 24-0 in the second quarter, the Gators had the Gamecocks stopped at midfield. Coming out of a timeout, Florida allowed South Carolina’s Kai Kroeger to complete a 48-yard pass on a fake punt for the visitors’ only score of the game (a 2-point conversion attempt failed). Special teamers get tricked. It happens. But this was particularly frustrating given Napier had the Gators concentrate on the ‘Cocks’ tremendous special teams and penchant for running fakes all week. It also occurred out of a dead ball in a clear and obvious situation for South Carolina with the rock at midfield and 2 minutes left. Napier said Florida was in the right call (punt safe) but blew the coverage.

The Gators defense was ferocious in the third quarter forcing turnovers on three consecutive possessions. However, despite Florida entering the red zone three times in the period, it only came away with seven points due to a combination of questionable play calls and more special teams miscues. The Gators had a 36-yard field goal blocked on their first possession of the period, and they committed an operation error on the third with sophomore holder Jeremy Crawshaw dropping a slightly high snap. (Crawshaw made amends with an incredible 67-yard punt that helped ice the game in the fourth quarter.)

In all, Florida saw drives stopped on the South Carolina 11 (made 28-yard field goal), 19 (blocked field goal), 28 (botched field goal) and 9 (fumble by redshirt sophomore Nay’Quan Wright). Even if Wright’s fumble came in garbage time — he took his first snaps since Oct. 8 — it was nevertheless another missed scoring opportunity. It also broke what would have been a four-game streak without a giveaway.

Speaking of those turnovers …

Florida’s defense has been lights out as of late. It has not allowed a single point across the last six quarters while forcing five turnovers (+4 margin) and allowing the offense to outgain opponents 744-343 with a 35-0 scoring margin. (UF has also allowed just 7 of 24 third-down conversions across the last two full games, the .292 rate far below the season’s average across the prior eight contests.) The Gators’ three turnovers in the third quarter alone took the wind out of the Gamecocks’ sails as they looked to mount a second-half comeback after grabbing momentum with the aforementioned fake punt touchdown pass.

Sophomore safety Rashad Torrence II started the party with a forced fumble that he recovered. Sophomore defensive tackle Desmond Watson then made the play of the game when he straight up stole the ball at the line of scrimmage, changed hands and stiff-armed South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler. Senior S Trey Dean III was then at the right place at the right time when a caught ball popped out of a wide receiver’s hands into midair for a fumble catch. Florida likely would have won handily without any of these turnovers, but the trio of takeaways was completely demoralizing for the visitors.

“They made my job a lot easier,” joked redshirt senior linebacker Ventrell Miller, who had four solo tackles (two for loss) and a QB hurry in the game. “We was on the field and off. … [Turnovers are] definitely a point of emphasis every week. We know turnovers win ball games, so we definitely try to get turnovers every game.”

Napier was effusive in his praise of his star defender. “Ventrell Miller is as good a human being I’ve been around in my career. His ability to affect the other players, his consistency as a player — there’s no wavering on his words, his actions, his care for other people. He’s an old soul, man. He has the ability to see the big picture. Very unique player. And he’s a heck of a football player.”

Rumble, big man, rumble

Let’s give Watson a bit more sun. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 415 pounds on Florida’s official roster, he has made a deliberate attempt to trim down, get on the field and help his teammates. That’s one reason why the Gators sideline exploded after his tremendous strip. Another is that he’s clearly a favorite amongst the coaches and players. Here’s how they spoke about him — and that moment — after the game.

Napier: “Big Des, man. I always tell the players, ‘I want the officials to warn me. I want you to celebrate with your teammates. I want the sideline energy. I want you to be creative.’ But that was next-level stuff there. We got a warning, but rightfully so, man. The guy just ripped it out of his hands. That’s a 440-pound man trying to run with that ball. I’m proud of Des, man. He’s come a long way, and let me tell you, he’s only going to get better. I really believe that.”

Miller: “That was a funny thing going into the sideline. We was asking him, ‘How you get tackled by the quarterback? You’re 500-something pounds!’ … He switched the ball [to the off hand] and all! I seen him!”

Richardson: “I’m going to talk to Des. ‘How do you get tacked by [Rattler]?’ Des made a play. Shout out to him. He kind of shocked me when I saw him switching the ball and stiff-arming people, but shout out to Des for making a big play.”

Can’t stop, won’t stop (on the ground)

The job Napier, co-offensive coordinator Rob Sale and assistant Darnell Stapleton have done rebuilding the offensive line was on full display as the Gators ran through the ‘Cocks like Swiss cheese across all four quarters. Sophomore running back Montrell Johnson Jr. was the star with 24 carries for 161 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown — the final score of the game. However, it was freshman RB Trevor Etienne who made the highlight play with his 85-yard rushing score setting the tone in the first quarter. Etienne ultimately took eight carries for 100 yards with his 85-yard trot the seventh-longest in program history.

“Those guys up front, they’re awesome,” said Napier of the line — in this case, particularly on Etienne’s long run. “We had a key block by a receiver. Ant made the right decision to hand the ball off instead of pitch the sweep. … [Etienne] did have the finishing speed to get it done, though he did get hogged down. The players were giving him a hard time. When you rush the ball effectively — in particular with how we do it — every position group is contributing to that.”

And then there’s Richardson, who finally used his legs across the entire game (until he was rested), running 15 times for 96 yards with a touchdown of his own. Florida piled up 374 yards (adjusted) on the ground, which was key given Richardson was wholly inaccurate through the air. Though he threw a pair of touchdowns to junior wide receiver Ricky Pearsall and redshirt sophomore tight end Jonathan Odom (first of his career), Richardson completed just 11 of 23 passes for 112 yards. He frequently threw behind his receivers and other times flung the ball too hard, in some ways reverting to his poor habits from earlier in the season. AR started 5 of 6 but completed just 6 of 17 to end the game.

Though Richardson’s NFL Draft stock has dropped significantly as the season has progressed — why he was projected as a top-10 pick before his first year as a full-time starter, who knows? — some believe he may have played his last game in The Swamp. “I haven’t really thought about it,” he said following the win. “After the Georgia loss, we’re just trying to get the team rolling again, trying to get back on track. … Just trying to win every game now and win a bowl game.”

Don’t get this twisted: Everyone around the Gators wants what is best for Richardson. At this point in his development, it’s tough to see how going to the NFL as a wholly unfinished product is best for him. His running game is exceptional, and his leadership has improved markedly, but AR is simply nowhere near consistent enough as a passer to succeed in the NFL. Another year in the system — particularly with Johnson and Etienne alongside him in the backfield — would clearly be what’s best for his long-term professional prospects. (It would just so happen to be best for Florida, too.)

“He’s growing as a leader. He’s getting comfortable with his role, his voice, being intentional with connecting with his teammates, his example of how to prepare during the week, how to have the self-discipline and be consistent in his approach. And then to speak with clarity and conviction,” said Napier of his signal caller. “He’s 20 years old, man. I know we all put the crown on him early and all that, but he’s really just a guy that’s working extremely hard to do his job for the team. Part of that job, when you’re the quarterback — at this level and at this place — is the leadership component. It’s connecting with others. It’s being thankful for all the people that contribute to the team. He’s walking around with intent in all those areas, and it’s helping him.”

Odds and ends

Florida improved to 30-10-3 all-time against South Carolina with a 17-2 mark in The Swamp … the Gators have scored 24+ points in 10 of their last 16 games … Florida is 6-0 this season when rushing for 150+ yards and 5-0 when leading after the third quarter … the Gators are first in the SEC in turnovers gained (21) … Florida is now 32-9 against unranked opponents since 2018 … the Gators have scored in 433 consecutive games, an NCAA record … Florida’s 21 first-quarter points were its most since Nov. 17, 2018 (vs. Idaho, 28) and most against a Power Five or SEC team since Sept. 24, 2021 (at Kentucky, 21) … Caleb Douglas became the first true freshman WR to start for the Gators since Kadarius Toney in 2017; Douglas had team-highs of three receptions and 53 yards … the six points allowed were the fewest to an SEC opponent other than Vanderbilt since 2019 (Missouri)

What it means

After an up-and-down start to the season, the Gators are clearly showing improvement in nearly all phases of the game. This contest was a 180-degree result compared to one year ago (17-40 ‘Cocks), yet Florida ensured Saturday’s showdown was basically noncompetitive. “We definitely touched on that — how they embarrassed us last year,” explained Miller. “So to come out and do what we did here feels good.”

UF dominated the first quarter offensively — its best of the entire season — and put together a furious defensive effort coming out of halftime. Though Richardson struggled and there were some special teams mishaps, this performance by the Gators would win the team a lot of games. Florida has now created the opportunity to close strong and perhaps exceed its preseason win total expectation (seven) with two winnable games remaining on the slate.

What’s next?

Florida will look to continue its tremendous play over the final third of the season when it visits Vanderbilt on Saturday for a noon ET kickoff on SEC Network. The Commodores snapped a 26-game SEC losing streak with a 24-21 win over No. 24 Kentucky. The Gators have won eight straight and 29 of the last 30 meetings against the ‘Dores.

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