The guy who gave this building its name wondered if the famous Swamp would make an impact on South Carolina’s flashy new quarterback Saturday.
“The only thing I said before the game was, you know, Jake (Bentley) has had all three home games, and it’s always easier to play at home,” Steve Spurrier said after No. 22 Florida beat South Carolina 20-7. “Down here is a little different.”
Spurrier’s fingerprints were all over Saturday’s game. He’s the winningest coach at Florida and South Carolina, and the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is called Steve Spurrier-Florida Field. He also knows something about quarterbacking, having won the 1966 Heisman Trophy as the Gators quarterback.
“I don’t know (why playing the position is harder on the road),” he said. “You feel the whole crowd is on top of you a little bit.”
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It got on top of everybody in garnet and black Saturday. An offense that showed steady improvement behind Bentley gained 2.8 yards per play through the first three quarters (119 yards). A defense that’s ranked in the top half of the SEC tackled a lot of air and gave up its most rushing yards in a month. And a three-game winning streak, all at home, went up in smoke.
“I do feel like we are a different team at home, and that’s not a good thing,” said current South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who coached the Gators for four years as well. “We have to learn how to go on the road and play well. I told the guys in the locker room, ‘Learn from it, move forward.’ ”
Bentley lost for the first time as South Carolina’s starter. He also turned the ball over for the first time in his career, one fumble and one interception, and he was sacked five times while completing 18 of 33 passes for 213 yards and no touchdowns.
“I’m pretty sure Jake, he wasn’t nervous, but this is his first game away from home. He was probably a little jittery a little bit, but in the second half he turned it on,” defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth said. “We put ourselves in a hole in the first half. You can’t do that against a good team.”
Spurrier is impressed with Bentley overall, saying “He’s an excellent player. Got it all. Can throw, move around.”
Saturday’s loss isn’t on Bentley, though. As a group, the Gamecocks failed to bring the swagger they have at home with them to Florida. They haven’t won on the road since the season opener against Vanderbilt.
“You saw some wide eyes,” junior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “As a freshman or a sophomore, being in this environment for the first time is kind of intimidating. I feel like we came out a little flat. Playing against a good team like that, you can’t start slow.”
Through three quarters, South Carolina had as many punts as completions (seven).
“I don’t think the crowd was too bad, but we were stagnant early,” running back David Williams said. “We tried to turn it on way too late.”
This should be expected from a team as young as the Gamecocks.
It’s still hard to watch.
“We have a bunch of young players who are going to continue to improve, but we didn’t handle the moment very well early in the game as a football team,” Muschamp said. “That was very evident.”