GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The South Carolina of the past three weeks was not Saturday’s South Carolina.
The Gamecocks came back to Will Muschamp’s old stomping grounds, where the speed, size and experience of Florida Gators was too much for them to overcome in a 20-7 loss at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
South Carolina dropped to 5-5, seeing its three-game winning streak halted. The Gamecocks enter their final two games still in need for a win to secure a bowl berth. It will have to get it done against either Western Carolina or Clemson.
It was a long, long, long day for the South Carolina offense, which was facing one of the nation’s best defenses – and it looked like it all game. The Gamecocks didn’t get into the end zone until David Williams punched in a 1-yard touchdown run with 6:53 to play.
USC made it a bit interesting late when Bentley floated a pass to Hayden Hurst, who rumbled with a defender on his back for a 47-yard gain to the Florida 19. Bentley’s fourth-down pass hit Hurst’s outstretched fingertips, but fell to the ground to end the final threat.
Jake Bentley stood in an often collapsing pocket, turning over the ball for the first two times in his career in his first loss as the Gamecocks starting quarterback. The run game was stifled, generating just 43 yards on 30 attempts. The Gamecocks had a pair of crucial third-down drops.
Florida took an early 7-0 lead with an easy touchdown drive on its first possession when Austin Appleby hit C’yontai Lewis. It scored again quickly on a four-play, 76-yard drive in the second, capped by Appleby’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Ahmad Fulwood.
Eddy Pineiro kicked a pair of field goals for Florida, a 55-yarder and a 35-yarder.
The Gamecocks forced three turnovers. Bryson Allen-Williams had a fumble recovery and a tipped pass that resulted in a T.J. Holloman interception. Allen-Williams also forced a fumble, which Jamarcus King recovered.
Moment that mattered
South Carolina trailed by 14 when it started getting some chunk plays together. Williams ran for 9. Bryan Edwards made a leaping grab over Florida’s Jalen Tabor for 21.
The drive stalled at the Florida 25 as three straight plays proved disastrous. Rico Dowdle was thrown down for a 5-yard loss, then ran for no gain. Bentley was sacked on third-and-15 by Florida’s Taven Bryan, who forced and recovered a fumble at the Florida 37.
South Carolina didn’t get close to the end zone again until the fourth quarter.
Can South Carolina take its high level of play on the road?
Before delving into this, it must be said that Florida just a better team than South Carolina. The Gators defense really is the difference, dominating the Gamecocks up front.
But South Carolina brought back memories of the team that was abysmal defensively in the first half at Mississippi State on Sept. 10. The offense struggled with drops, key ones by Hayden Hurst and Bryan Edwards coming on third downs. The Gamecocks simply looked like a completely different team than it did in the past few weeks at Williams-Brice Stadium, even in the games they lost.
Bentley was sacked six times by Tennessee and four times by Missouri. On Saturday, he was under relentless pressure.
The freshman quarterback was sacked five times, flushed from the pocket many more and forced to throw away a handful of times.
What it means
Well, South Carolina has been playing well in the past month. But everything came crashing back down on the Gamecocks against Florida.
The Gamecocks won’t win the SEC East this season – it still is crazy to think that a team that was 3-9 last season was in position in November to compete for the division title. That speaks to the work of Muschamp and his staff.
All things considered, it was a very loud reminder that South Carolina has a long way to go, which Muschamp has said recently after wins.