There was no doubt Florida would come out fired up against a bad South Carolina team on Saturday, and that’s exactly what the Gators did.
Florida pushed ahead three scores heading into the fourth quarter, but it allowed South Carolina two touchdowns in the final quarter — making it a closer game than it should have been.
Ultimately, the Gators had just enough offense saved in the gas tank to leave Columbia, S.C. for the first time since 2009 with a 24-14 win.
Before we get to the FAU game next weekend, here are the grades Florida earned based on its performance against South Carolina.
There were some Gators fans that said the loss of Will Grier would be minimal. Do those same people still have that belief? Make no mistake, once Grier returns from his performance-enhancing drug suspension, he will be the starting quarterback. Treon Harris misses too many open throws and makes very questionable decisions at times. His interception in the end zone late in the first half essentially allowed South Carolina to stay in the game. He finished 19-of-33 with one touchdown and two interceptions.
On a positive note, Florida had its first non-quarterback, 100-yard rushing game since 2011. Kelvin Taylor ran for 105 yards on 20 carries and got 53 of those on the most important play of the game. On a third-and-8 late in the fourth quarter, Taylor busted free right up the gut. On the next play, Taylor scored from one yard out. With that touchdown, Taylor has scored at least once against every SEC East opponent this season.
Freshman running back Jordan Cronkrite also proved that he should be getting more touches. On a play that should have been intercepted, Cronkrite out-muscled the defender and made a spectacular play that resulted in a score. Jim McElwain should find a way to get Cronkrite the ball more often.
Through three quarters, Florida held South Carolina to 44 total yards. But in the end, the Gamecocks finished with 201 yards. The Gators allowed two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and almost gave away a three-possession lead.
It’s safe to say the Gators are going to have to rely on their defense for the rest of the season because the offense won’t reach the ceiling it hit before Grier’s suspension.
In order to rely on the defense for the rest of the year though, Florida must make sure it doesn’t get relaxed and allow teams to score late after stopping its opponent for almost the entire game.
Special Teams: A
Can Florida go one game without an interesting moment while kicking? One of Austin Hardin’s extra point attempts was tipped at the line, but luck was on the Gators’ side because the ball still went through the uprights. Like the quarterback situation, the kicking game isn’t going to be solved overnight. It’s going to continue through the offseason.
Remarkably, punter Johnny Townsend now has a total of one return yard on his last 34 punts. Entering this game, he had a total of minus-6 return yards on those punts. South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper had seven yards on three punt returns in Saturday’s game.
Entering the game, the plan should have been to run the ball as often as possible because South Carolina had college football’s 109th-ranked rushing defense. Florida ran the ball 43 times for 148 yards. The Gators were not efficient on the ground, which led to Treon Harris’ 33 pass attempts.
It’s clear what this coaching staff’s plan is, though. Florida tries to get a lead early and allow its defense to do its thing. Because this defense is so elite, it just sucks the life out of opponents because the task at hand is so daunting. The Gators have done a good job of getting leads early and holding on in the end.
In the end, Florida did what it was supposed to. It beat a bad South Carolina team that won’t go to a bowl game for the first time in 12 years.
Florida now hosts Florida Atlantic on Nov. 21 before finishing out the season against in-state rival Florida State.