5 things we learned from Florida’s win over South Carolina
Unfortunately for the Gators, conference play is over.
Florida closed out its SEC schedule with a 24-14 road win over South Carolina on Saturday to finish with a 7-1 conference record. Jim McElwain is the first Gators football coach in program history to finish with seven SEC wins in his first season.
The good thing for Florida is that it gets to play another conference game this season in the SEC championship game.
What did we learn from the win over South Carolina?
1. This team can execute a game plan: Ball control. That was clearly Florida’s game plan against South Carolina on Saturday. The Gators executed it to perfection. Florida dominated time of possession, 39:56 to 20:04. That translated to the Gators outgaining the Gamecocks 404-201. Good luck asking Florida to execute a game plan over the past few years. This might be the area that Jim McElwain deserves the most credit for. Earlier this week McElwain said, “I think the important point with all teachers and all education and anything that you do, you got to explain the why and the how.” This is a big reason behind the Gators’ execution this season. Florida might not have the most talented roster, but it has been able to beat some opponents by out-executing them.
2. Strength of Gators defense unknown: Is it the unit’s defensive line? Is it the secondary? Not really sure at this point. Both are dominant. Before the season, many expected the secondary to be the best part of Florida’s defense. Many asked the question, “Does the ‘DBU’ title belong to Florida?” But as the season has progressed, the defensive line has caught up to the secondary. The Gators’ defensive line has accounted for 48.5 of the team’s 76 tackles for loss and 25.5 of the team’s 31 sacks this season. And much like the secondary, the group is deep. Despite not having a 100 percent Jon Bullard and losing defensive end Alex McCalister to a foot injury early in the South Carolina game, the Gators held the Gamecocks to 21 rushing yards Saturday. Since the bye week, Florida is allowing 2.5 yards per carry over three games. So, is the secondary still the strength of the Gators’ defense? Not so sure about that anymore.
3. Gators offense still a mystery: Another win, another week we’re left wondering about Florida’s offense. The unit has done enough to win games this season, but there are some glaring issues. First, the offensive line can’t get any push in the run game. Take away Kelvin Taylor’s 53-yard run late in the game and the Gators totaled 95 rushing yards and averaged 2.3 yards per carry against South Carolina. Second, turnovers are starting to become an issue. After committing five turnovers over the first seven games of the season, Florida has committed seven turnovers over the past three games. Third, quarterback Treon Harris hasn’t been as sharp as usual. Over the past three games, Harris has completed 51 percent of his passes for 569 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions while losing two fumbles. Those are all issues Florida will need to work on if it wants a chance of making the College Football Playoff.
4. Austin Hardin is the guy: All of the talk about “The Dentist” was nice, but kicker Austin Hardin is Florida’s guy. McElwain has called backup Neil MacInnes, a dental student who was recently added as a walk-on, the team’s kicker for short attempts and Hardin the team’s kicker for long attempts. It looks like Hardin is Florida’s go-to kicker, though. After missing four consecutive field goals, Hardin has now knocked in two straight. After making a game-winning field goal against Vanderbilt last week, Hardin made an important 39-yard field goal against South Carolina. Hardin also made each of Florida’s three extra points Saturday. With so many questions surrounding the Gators’ field goal kicking, a confident Hardin would mean a lot moving forward.
5. Jalen Tabor continues to grow: How much has Gators cornerback Jalen Tabor grown this season? Well, Tabor served a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules and was involved in an ugly Twitter rant hours after the suspension less than two months ago. Fast forward to today and the sophomore leads the team with 12 passes defended and is second on the team with three interceptions. Some have even said Tabor is having a better season than Gators All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. I don’t know about that. But one thing is for sure, Tabor is going to be the most coveted piece in Florida’s secondary next season if Hargreaves forgoes his senior year to enter the 2016 NFL Draft as expected.