GAINESVILLE, Fla. | South Carolina has stumbled, it seems, onto an unusual formula for winning big games.
The Gamecocks allowed Florida freshman Andre DeBose to take the game’s opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and give the Gators a 7-0 lead 14 seconds into Saturday’s game. It wasn’t the start South Carolina was looking for, especially coming on the heels of last week’s disastrous game against Arkansas.
However, instead of becoming a sign of things to come for South Carolina, it turned out it was the only sign of life from Florida.
“We didn’t flinch at all,” defensive tackle Travian Robertson said. “When that happened, the first thing I thought of was the Clemson game when they ran it back and we came back and won. Nobody hung their head, not that I know of. We knew they had great athletes and if we gave them something, they were going to take it.”
In last year’s Clemson game, the Gamecocks let C.J. Spiller go 88 yards for a score on the opening kickoff and then scored 24 consecutive points. Saturday, they reeled off 29 points in a row after the Gators’ big play.
The key, freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore said, was that South Carolina immediately answered with a nine-play 29-yard drive and a 49-yard field goal from Spencer Lanning.
“That gave them a lot of momentum, but we came out and got three on the board,” Lattimore said.
Hot and cold
Lanning started to worry as soon as he missed a point-after attempt with 2:36 left in the first half, leaving the Gamecocks with a 9-7 lead instead of a 10-7 lead. He missed an extra point that hurt South Carolina earlier this year against Auburn.
“I was thinking, ‘It’s going to come back and haunt us some way or another,’ but we just kept pushing,” he said. “I am just glad I got the opportunity to help our team.”
Lanning made up for the miss with three field goals from beyond 40 yards — a 49-yarder, a 47-yarder and a 41-yarder.
South Carolina put pressure on Florida’s quarterbacks throughout the first half Saturday but didn’t register its first sack until fewer than four minutes remained in the second quarter. When they did, it set a single-season school record.
Defensive lineman Melvin Ingram wrapped up the Gators’ John Brantley to stop a Florida drive and notch South Carolina’s 33rd sack of the year. It was the seventh sack of the season for Ingram, a junior who entered the season with 2.5 career sacks. The Gamecocks finished with three sacks and have 35 this season.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had a title and a nice paycheck on the line Saturday night. Spurrier’s contract calls for a $100,000 bonus for getting the Gamecocks into the SEC Championship Game.
Title game tickets
The Dec. 4 SEC Championship Game in Atlanta is sold out, but 15,000 tickets have been set aside for participating teams. Gamecock Club members, who get first priority on tickets, have received ticket-purchasing information.
South Carolina’s offensive line allowed Stephen Garcia to be sacked once, not to mention that it cleared the way for 258 rushing yards.
“Every time we ran the zone, I saw (center T.J. Johnson) just push the guy, push the guy,” Lattimore said. “Every time. It was an amazing job by the O-line.”
With Jarriel King (concussion) out, South Carolina started Hutch Eckerson and Kyle Nunn at tackle. Other than Nunn, only true freshmen reserve linemen were available for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina also made another lineup change in the secondary, this time pulling DeVonte Holloman and starting D.J. Swearinger. Holloman rotated in regularly in the first half but didn’t see much time because the Gators ran 19 plays in the first 30 minutes.