South Carolina’s day at The Swamp on Saturday:
Turnover on downs.
It wasn’t the triumphant return of Will Muschamp that any Gamecocks fan wanted. Instead, it was a 20-7 win by No. 22 Florida, which officially ended South Carolina’s hopes of an SEC East crown and a three-game winning streak. The Gamecocks (5-5, 3-5 SEC) wrapped up their conference schedule with the loss.
“As poorly as things had gone, it’s a 14-point game at halftime, and you have every opportunity in the world to capitalize on some things, and we never got over the hump as far as some things we needed to do to convert in the game,” said Muschamp, who was fired after coaching the Gators from 2011-14.
The Gamecocks fell behind 20-0 while their offense managed 119 yards through three quarters. South Carolina finished with 256 yards as freshman quarterback Jake Bentley (18-for-33, 213 yards, one interception, zero touchdowns) suffered his first loss as USC’s starting quarterback.
“There are some plays we left out there today,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “That’s what hurts the most.”
Hurst and freshman wide receiver Bryan Edwards each had a critical drops in the first half.
“Against a defense like that, you have to make those plays when you get the opportunity,” Muschamp said of the gators (7-2, 5-2).
The Gators, who were playing with backup quarterback Austin Appleby because of an injury to starter Luke Del Rio, had 257 yards at halftime and 372 for the game. Running back Jordan Scarlett rushed 20 times for 134 yards.
“Defensively, extremely disappointed, continue to struggle with some things in the run game,” Muschamp said. “We had guys at the point of attack, but had some missed tackles, some missed leverages.”
After Muschamp and Florida coach Jim McElwain shook hands following the game, Muschamp spent 15 minutes greeting his former players, who stood in a long line to give him a hug.
“That’s what it’s all about, the relationships you build with people,” Muschamp said. “As you move forward, there will be less players involved which is probably the better part for me.”
“You can tell how hard (Muschamp) has gotten that team to play,” McElwain said. “My hat is off to those guys in what they’re doing, they’re doing a fantastic job and doing it with a young quarterback as well. They have a bright road ahead of them.”
South Carolina’s best drive of the first half came midway through the second quarter. The Gamecocks held the ball for 5:39 and moved from their 25-yard line to Florida’s 37. Gators defensive end Taven Bryan sacked and stripped Bentley, recovering the fumble to squash the Gamecocks’ only real momentum of the game. It was the first turnover of Bentley’s career. He threw an interception in the second half.
Star of the game: Senior defensive end Darius English had a critical missed assignment on a zone read play in the first half but rebounded to finish with a team-high 10 tackles, including two for loss. It was a career high for English, who also had half a sack, giving him eight for the season.
Play of the game: Hurst, who had three catches for 67 yards, rumbled down the field dragging a Florida defender for a 47-yard gain in the fourth quarter. The play put South Carolina in the red zone and gave the Gamecocks hope for a late rally, but that ended when that drive ended in a turnover on downs.
Stat of the game: South Carolina rushed 30 times for 43 yards, an average of 1.4 yards per carry. It was the third time this season the Gamecocks have been held under 50 yards rushing. “They knew what we were going to try to do,” Hurst said. “We were going to try to run the ball, and they shut that down pretty good.”
Dowdle dinged: South Carolina fans got a scare in the third quarter when freshman running back Rico Dowdle, who came in with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, was helped off the field favoring his right leg. Muschamp said after the game that Dowdle “is fine.” Dowdle finished with nine carries for 18 yards.
Not-so-special teams: Florida’s Antonio Callaway had four punt returns for 100 yards and would have had more if a 76-yard return for a touchdown hadn’t been called back because of a holding penalty in the second quarter. That statistic continued a trend of troubling special teams for the Gamecocks. “We have to get faster as a team,” Muschamp said. “I’ve said that all season. It’s really hurting on special teams, and Antonio is a really good player. That’s a major issue for our football team. We’ve got to improve our team speed.”
Tight coverage: Bentley was sacked three times in the first half and most of those were the result of good coverage by Florida. He was sacked five times overall. Gators cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson limited the deep shots South Carolina likes to take to Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards. “They kept some guys cut off down the field, and they did a good job with their four-man rush,” Muschamp said.
Who: Western Carolina at South Carolina
When: Nov. 19, 4 p.m.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network Alternate
How they scored
FLA: C. Lewis 6 pass from Appleby (Pineiro kick), 11:17
FLA: Fulwood 18 pass from Appleby (Pineiro kick), 9:37
FLA: FG Pineiro 54, 7:28
FLA: FG Pineiro 36, :52
SC: Da. Williams 1 run (Fry kick), 6:53
Time of Possession
RUSHING: South Carolina, Da.Williams 7-20, Dowdle 9-18, Samuel 2-6, Talley 3-5, Knott 0-0, Bentley 9-(minus 6). Florida, Scarlett 20-134, Appleby 6-34, Cronkrite 1-13, Perine 5-11, M.Thompson 1-(minus 2), B.Powell 1-(minus 8), (Team) 3-(minus 11).
PASSING: South Carolina, Bentley 18-33-1-213. Florida, Appleby 17-21-1-201.
RECEIVING: South Carolina, Samuel 4-53, Da.Williams 4-26, Hurst 3-63, Edwards 2-37, Crosby 2-22, Talley 2-16, Dowdle 1-(minus 4). Florida, Callaway 4-48, C.Lewis 4-38, B.Powell 3-32, Fulwood 2-48, Hammond 2-18, Swain 1-20, Cronkrite 1-(minus 3).
MISSED FIELD GOALS: None.