South Carolina got lucky number seven on Saturday.
The Gamecocks (7-3 overall, 5-3 SEC) beat Florida (3-6, 3-5) 28-20 in front of 79,727 fans in Williams-Brice Stadium to notch their seventh win of the season. It was lucky because South Carolina survived its first four-turnover game of the season to hold off the reeling Gators.
“Well, we made it a little more interesting than it probably needed to be,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “(Athletics director Ray) Tanner has been complaining about concessions so I figured we’d keep some people around.”
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley threw three interceptions for the first time in his career but helped the Gamecocks finally get some breathing room with a 7-yard touchdown run with 2:08 left in the third quarter that put USC up 28-13. From there, the Gamecocks were able to run out the clock on Florida, which has now lost five straight games under two head coaches. Interim head coach Randy Shannon, who replaced Jim McElwain on Oct. 29, is now 0-2.
“At the end of the day, we won,” Bentley said of his turnovers. “Better to learn from something with a W than the other way around. Just gotta learn from it, that’s about it.”
The Gators pulled within eight points on a 1-yard Mark Thompson touchdown run with 3:43 left in the game. That drive began after South Carolina place-kicker Parker White missed a 47-yard attempt. Gamecocks cornerback Jamyest Williams sealed the victory with an interception with 1:06 remaining.
It was the first time Muschamp has beaten his former team, and it clinched his first winning season in his second season in charge of the Gamecocks. South Carolina has won four of its last five games, and it topped six wins for the first time since the 2014 season. South Carolina’s 5-3 conference finish is its best SEC record since 2013 and guaranteed the Gamecocks at least a tie for second-place in the Eastern Division.
“You talk about progress, this football was 3-9 two years ago,” Muschamp said. “I just complimented them in the locker room. You talk about investing in what you need to do to be successful, to buy into a new coaching staff, to buy into maybe a new way of doing things, and I’m really proud of this football team and how they have invested in us and invested in themselves and each other.”
South Carolina finished with a season-high 469 yards. It was the most yards the Gamecocks have gained in an SEC game under offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
“We moved the ball extremely well,” Muschamp said. “We stayed balanced, which is exactly what we wanted to do, ran the ball extremely well. Something we have done all year is take care of the ball and we certainly have to take care of it better.”
Florida’s starting quarterback, senior Malik Zaire, left in the game in the second quarter after crumpling to the field with a non-contact injury. Zaire had just sat out one play after being helped to the sideline. When he returned, he took a shotgun snap, rolled to his left and crumpled to the ground as South Carolina defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth motioned to the Gators sideline for the medical staff.
Zaire was replaced by freshman Feleipe Franks, who has started six games this year but was replaced by Zaire when Shannon replaced McElwain. Franks finished 10-of-25 for 174 yards and one interception. The Gators, who had three turnovers, finished with 301 yards.
Star of the game: Sophomore running back A.J. Turner finished with a career-high 136 rushing yards on a career-high 22 carries and added 36 receiving yards. Turner had his previous career rushing high two weeks ago with 121 yards against Vanderbilt.
Play of the game: Florida’s best chance of getting the spark it needed to win the game started and ended on a weird play in the first quarter. Gators cornerback C.J. Henderson intercepted Bentley at the 25-yard line and returned the ball 24 yards to the 1-yard line, before fumbling when he was hit by Hayden Hurst while driving to dive in the end zone. South Carolina running back A.J. Turner picked up that fumble and returned it 24 yards.
Stat of the game: The first quarter featured five combined turnovers. Bentley threw two of his interceptions, his third and fourth since the start of the Georgia game, and the Gamecocks muffed a punt. The Gators fumbled a punt and also fumbled the interception return. “I have to be better about executing those plays and taking care of the ball,” Bentley said. “Our main focus was doing whatever it takes to win the game.”
Dominant defensive front: South Carolina’s defensive harassed which Florida quarterback was in the game. Senior defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth had five quarterback hurries, more than doubling his previous career high of two. Defensive end Aaron Sterling and cornerback Jamarcus King each had their first career sacks, and D.J. Wonnum and Daniel Fennell each had a sack.
Running back rotation: Sophomore running back Mon Denson has made a big move up the depth chart in five games. Denson, who got his first career carry against Arkansas on Oct. 7, was the second back in the game for the first time this season, and he responded with a career-high 61 rushing yards and the first two touchdowns on his career. Sophomore running back Ty’Son Williams, who started two games this year, didn’t get a carry. Williams was healthy, Muschamp said. “I talked to Ty’Son in the locker room, he’s good and we’re going to need him moving forward,” Muschamp said.
Injury update: South Carolina freshman wide receiver Shi Smith left the game in the first half after being poked in the eye. Smith’s vision never fully cleared, Muschamp said, do he didn’t return to the game. Starting safety D.J. Smith (hip) went through pregame drills with the team but did not play due to an injury suffered against Georgia. Defensive lineman Dante Sawyer “was limping around on one leg,” Muschamp said, and was limited. He didn’t have a tackle. “We’re like everybody else in the country right now, we’re really beat up, especially on the defensive side,” Muschamp said.
SC—Bentley 4 run (White kick), 11:30
SC—Denson 24 run (White kick), 02:08
UF—Pineiro 29 field goal, 14:02
UF—Pineiro 37 field goal, 07:47
SC—Denson 12 run (White kick), 03:40
UF—Perine 18 run (Pineiro kick), 01:18
SC—Bentley 7 run (White kick), 02:08
UF—Thompson 1 run (Pineiro kick), 03:43
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Florida, M.Thompson 3-35, Perine 6-24, Zaire 6-21, Harkless 0-0, Franks 7-(minus 2). South Carolina, Turner 22-136, Denson 13-61, Bentley 8-14, Hurst 1-11, Bry.Edwards 1-2, (Team) 2-(minus 4).
PASSING: Florida, Zaire 7-14-0-49, Franks 10-25-1-174. South Carolina, Bentley 19-29-3-249.
RECEIVING” Florida, B.Powell 5-58, Toney 3-37, Massey 2-11, M.Stephens 1-63, Hammond 1-37, Cleveland 1-11, Swain 1-7, Perine 1-2, Lewis 1-(minus 1), M.Thompson 1-(minus 2). South Carolina, O.Smith 5-60, Hurst 5-59, Bry.Edwards 3-48, Turner 3-36, S.Smith 1-26, August 1-11, Dawkins 1-9.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: South Carolina, White 47.
Who: Wofford at South Carolina
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network Alternate