After getting steamrolled for an average of 44 points in its last three SEC games, South Carolina’s defense rose to the occasion Saturday.
The Gamecocks held Florida to 278 yards, the lowest total of any opponent all season. The Gators completed five passes for 60 yards and averaged 4.4 yards per carry, a full 1.5 yards fewer than the Gamecocks had been surrendering entering the game.
“I felt like the guys played assignment football. We are not the most talented bunch by no means, but when you’ve got 11 guys doing what they are supposed to, you’ve got a chance,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
South Carolina, which ranked last in the conference in defense entering the game, held Florida 41 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime. Ward, who coached the game from the sideline after coaching from the press box in the last three games, was optimistic after watching his defense in practice the last two weeks, he said.
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“Coach (Steve) Spurrier was encouraging them to hit the offensive guys (in practice) and so we did a lot more physical work in practice so I thought we had a chance the way we practiced,” he said.
Moving senior Brison Williams back to safety from cornerback for the first half also helped because Williams is the most experienced defensive back and gets the defense lined up pre-snap better than any other player, Ward said.
“We were confident the whole game,” said Jonathan Walton, who started at weak side linebacker. “We were on them the whole game. Our mindset was, ‘Just got to stay on them.’”
Florida punted seven times, more than any South Carolina opponent this season other than Missouri (10).
“One thing that was talked about at our pregame meal this morning. ‘Let’s play as a team,’ ” Ward said. “We hadn’t really done that all season. We won this ball game as a team. This was a team win and hopefully we can build on that.”
Banged Up Backs
Junior running backs Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds each left the game with injuries but both returned and pronounced themselves fully healthy after the game. Davis, who had 56 yards on 15 carries, suffered a right shoulder sprain on the first play of the game and had an ice pack on his shoulder after the game. Wilds, who suffered a shin bruise, had 34 yards on 12 carries.
Sophomore place-kicker Elliott Fry may be glad the game didn’t come down to his leg. After hitting 12 of his first 13 field goal attempts this season, the sophomore has missed three of his last four attempts. He missed a 47-yardser in the third quarter Saturday.
Shamier Jeffery, along with Nick Jones and Pharoh Cooper, started at wide receiver. Jeffery started in the outside spot that had been manned mostly by Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd this season. On Wednesday, wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. was critical of the play of Roland and Byrd and said he had not decided who would start at the position.
It was the first start of Jeffery’s career, but he did not have a catch in the game. Roland and Byrd each caught two passes for a combined 42 yards, and Roland lost a fumble.
When Florida ended its first two drives of the game with punts, it was the first time South Carolina had forced back-to-back punts against an SEC team since the Oct. 4 game against Kentucky.
... Chaz Elder made his first start at safety since the Sept. 27 Missouri game.
... Freshman Bryson Allen-Williams recorded the first sack of his career when he shared a sack with Sharrod Golightly in the third quarter.
... Walton and Skai Moore each had 12 tackles, the most by a Gamecock in a game this season.