COLUMBIA, S.C. — The offensive gameplan became apparent early. The No. 11 Florida Gators (9-1, 7-1SEC ) wanted to control the clock, win the time of possession and finish out their Southeastern conference schedule with a win over South Carolina (3-7, 1-7 SEC)
They did just that, but a late fourth quarter surge from South Carolina made the game more interesting than it needed to be.
“Well, that’s how we’re built. If you look at games that we win, we’re usually plus turnover, and we’re plus time of possession, which allows our defense to be fresh and play really hard,” Jim McElwain said after the game. “I don’t have it in front of me guys, but I think going into the third quarter, it had to be pretty decisive. At least it seemed like it from our sideline.”
The Gators held on to the ball for 9:06 in the first quarter and 10:52 in the second quarter, limiting South Carolina to just 21 offensive plays in the first half. The Gators held on to the ball for 10:57 in the third quarter to stretch out their time of possession advantage to more than a full quarter of play (30:55-14:05).
Florida ran 40 plays in the first half, mixing up their play calling with 21 rushing attempts to 19 pass attempts and took a 14-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
A quick three-and-out from the defense and an Austin Hardin field goal gave Florida a three-score lead heading into the fourth quarter of play.
That’s when South Carolina made what had become a snoozer of a ballgame into a true contest. The Gamecocks put together an eight play, 64-yard touchdown drive that ended with wide receiver Pharoh Cooper throwing a touchdown pass to quarterback Perry Orth. Florida’s offense moved backwards on the ensuing drive and South Carolina took over with the ball on their own 21.
Orth completed passes of 25 and 12 before connecting with Cooper for a 38-yard touchdown to bring South Carolina to within three points.
“I think it goes back to the understanding that when you become result oriented. In other words, when you look at the scoreboard, I gotta, no, just go win that play,” said McElwain. “You accumulate wins throughout the game. The more you win and less you lose, on each individual play. It’s a beautiful thing. The game of football is about 180 individual events. That’s all it is. It’s a grouping of 180 individual events. The mindset is, whatever that event is, go win it, don’t worry about anything else. Sometimes we’re worrying too much about stuff that doesn’t matter, feel sorry about ourselves because we got beat on the last play.
The Gators’ offense took over with 4:49 left on the clock and a slim lead. They needed to get points and pick up a defense that had spent the majority of the afternoon dragging the offense along with them. “At that moment we needed a touchdown, we wanted a touchdown,” Treon Harris said.
Demarcus Robinson dove for a Harris pass, coming up with a great catch and an 18-yard gain, tick, tick tick, the clock continued to drain. Kelvin Taylor ran for two more yards, the clock keeps running but an incomplete pass on second down left the Gators in a third down and eight to go hole.
There was no fancy name for the play call that came in on third and eight. No “train right Jill, Big Ben in” like Antonio Callaway’s touchdown against Tennessee. It was just a simple gap scheme run, something the coaching staff thought they could take advantage of because of the way that South Carolina was coming off of the edge and third and eight is a passing down.
Harries turned and handed the ball off to Kelvin Taylor, Taylor stayed patient, waited for the hole to open and then was off to the races.
51 yards later he was drug down at the one-yard line and a play later he iced the game, diving into the end zone for six.
“We just blocked back, and I knew I had to keep two phase like Coach Summers always preaches, work up on that block and that’s what I was trying to do,” center Cam Dillard said of the play. “KT was able to split up the middle, Trip and Mason had a great deuce and then he just ran downfield and KT did his thing.”
Quincy Wilson’s interception on the ensuing drive closed out the game, giving Florida their seventh SEC win of the season and also completing the Florida Gators perfect record against SEC East teams. The win, although it wasn’t pretty (again) also keeps the Gators alive in the race to be one of the four teams that will play in the College Football Playoff.
“I would hope so,” McElwain said when asked if his team believes that they should be in the College Football Playoff talk. “But it doesn’t matter if you don’t take care of the now. You might want to do that some day, alright?”