Will Muschamp’s struggles at The Swamp continued on Saturday.
South Carolina lost a 17-point second half lead and fell to No. 19 Florida 35-31 in front of 82,696 fans in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where Muschamp previously served as the Gators head coach.
“When you come on the road in our league and have the opportunity we had today, it’s gut-wrenching,” Muschamp said. “It’s one you’ll carry for a while. As much as we put into it, it’s going to hurt. It’s frustrating.”
The Gamecocks (5-4 overall, 4-4 SEC) led 31-14 after Rico Dowdle scored on a 4-yard run with 4:41 left in the third quarter, and South Carolina still led by 18 points with 16 minutes left in the game, but the Gators scored 21 unanswered from that point.
“Coach said it best, it hurts,” said quarterback Jake Bentley, who threw for 239 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. “It’s going to hurt for a little bit because of how hard we prepared and the love we have for one another on the team. I think our leadership has got to step up and get our mind set on Chattanooga now. There is still stuff to play for. That’s for sure.”
Florida (7-3, 5-3) rushed for 367 yards and scored four of its five touchdowns on the ground against a Gamecocks defense ranked 12th in the SEC against the run. It was the most yards rushing allowed by the Gamecocks since LSU gained 396 in 2015, Steve Spurrier’s final game as the South Carolina head coach.
For the first three quarters, the game belonged to the Gamecocks who were looking to snap an eight-game losing streak against ranked teams. Muschamp has now lost eight of his last 10 games as a head coach in The Swamp. His last SEC victory in Gainesville came on Sept. 13, 2014, in a 36-30 overtime win over Kentucky.
“It’s a hard, tough loss. We had our opportunity,” Muschamp said. “Give Florida credit, they made the plays they had to in the end.
The loss means South Carolina, which hasn’t beaten a ranked team since Oct. 29, 2016, will finish the season fourth in the SEC East.
Star of the game: South Carolina senior wide receiver Deebo Samuel finished with 201 all-purpose yards, including the longest reception of his career, an 89-yard gain that set up the Gamecocks’ fourth touchdown of the game. It was the seventh-longest passing play in South Carolina history. Samuel also recovered a Florida punt while playing the gunner position on the punt team.
Play of the game: After South Carolina had stopped Florida on three plays from the 2-yard line, Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal for the decisive score with 4:09 left in the game. It was Florida’s first lead of the game.
Stat of the game: The Gamecocks ran 25 plays for 145 yards in the second half. They gained 89 yards on Samuel’s catch and 56 on the other 24 plays for an average of 2.3 yards on those plays. “We were running the same things in the second half that we did early in the game and had a lot of success (in the first half),” Muschamp said. “We called the same things we were calling to get to that point.”
Allen-Williams, Sterling out: Defensive ends Bryson Allen-Williams and Aaron Sterling did not make the trip to Florida due to injuries. Allen-Williams suffered an ankle injury against Ole Miss, and Sterling suffered a knee injury. Allen-Williams will miss at least the remainder of the regular season, Muschamp said after the game. The Gamecocks moved defensive tackle Keir Thomas to end to start the game and gave Kobe Smith the second start of his career at defensive tackle.
The Surly Swamp: Florida’s fans were antsy as the game started. The Gators already had lost to Kentucky and Missouri at home in head coach Dan Mullen’s first year with the school. Florida fans booed Franks after a first quarter incompletion, and Franks made a shushing motion to his home fans after scoring on a 10-yard run in the second quarter to tie the score at 14-14. The boos came back out in force in the third quarter when the Gators made a conservative play call on a long third down.
Dan August returns: South Carolina’s first score of the game came on a 2-yard pass to senior tight end Jacob August. It was the second touchdown of August’s career. His first came in 2015 when Steve Spurrier was his head coach. Spurrier, who is now a consultant at Florida and was in attendance Saturday, jokingly called Jacob August “Dan August” after a 1970s television character played by Burt Reynolds.
Who: South Carolina vs. Chattanooga
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC
TV: SEC Network alternate