Who has the best defense in the Southeastern Conference? The question was asked all week and resoundingly answered on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville. The storyline featured the high-flying Florida offense versus a stingy, nationally third-ranked Gamecocks defense. The Florida offense lived up to its billing, amassing 519 yards of total offense and it was the Gator defense, not South Carolina’s, that was downright inhospitable. The 56-6 loss was the worst in the Steve Spurrier’s coaching or playing career. As the Ol’ Ball Coach would say, God indeed smiled on the Gators.
Florida has pummeled opponent after opponent to the tune of 299-63 over the past six games. Opponents have scored 47 of those 63 points in the second half when the game is clearly out of reach. This team is firing on all cylinders. Let’s take a look at a back at how the Gators hammered South Carolina.
46 SECONDS: Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes picked off a Chris Smelley pass and took it into the end zone for Florida’s first score. Two plays later, safety Ahmad Black robbed Smelley once more setting up the Florida offense at the 26-yard line. Running back Percy Harvin took a handoff from quarterback Tim Tebow and sprinted into the end zone. In a mere 46 seconds, the Gators ran out to a 14-0 lead.
DEFENSE: The Florida defense was absolutely sensational. The Gators held the man who earned the nickname “The Evil Genius” for his offensive mastermind to a pair of meaningless field goals. South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier was his usual candid self post game.
“We couldn’t find a play,” Spurrier said. “Charlie Strong and his guys had good coverages and a good pass rush. Our quarterback play struggled and when you add it all up you get clobbered.”
The statistics don’t lie when it comes to this game, folks. Florida’s defense was dominant. Spurrier’s offense coverted just seven percent (1 of 15) of their third down conversions, while forcing South Carolina to punt 10 times. Carolina quarterbacks combined for just 19-37 for 120 yards and no touchdowns. They threw three interceptions and were pressured all day. The Gators sacked the quarterback four times and spent much of the day in the backfield. Florida had eight tackles for loss in the game.
FAST START: Florida is a fast start team, jumping on opponents early and usually often. If we focus solely on the past six games, the picture becomes very clear as to just how dominant this team has become. The Gators have outscored opponents 101-0 in the first quarter and they’re scoring an average of 25.5 points in the first half, which is more than many schools average per game.
The dominant first quarter continued against South Carolina. The Florida offense picked up 153 yards of total offense in the opening quarter, roughly 60 percent of the 254 yards the Gamecocks were giving up per game. Carolina ranked third in the conference in scoring defense with 15.3 points per game. The Florida offense scored 14 of the 21 points in the opening quarter.
Defensively, the Gators throttled South Carolina in the first quarter. The defense forced three turnovers and held the Gamecocks to just one first down. The Gamecocks gained just four yards rushing on six carries. Their leading Carolina rusher was quarterback Chris Smelley, who had seven yards. That’s as unproductive a first quarter as a Steve Spurrier coached team has ever experienced.
THE KICKIN’ CHICKENS: South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop had a much better personal line in the book this trip to “The Swamp.” Succop had two field goals with none blocked or missed. The last time Succop played in Gainesville, he had two of three attempts blocked, which helped Florida to the SEC Championship Game.
BIG PLAYS: The Gators clearly won the big play war. Big plays have a trademark of Spurrier offenses. The Gamecocks had just four pass plays that went double-digits with the biggest gain being just 16 yards. Only running back Mike Davis (14 yards) had a running play that went for more than 10 yards. The biggest plays when the South Carolina offense was on the field occurred courtesy of the Gators defense.
Meanwhile, the Florida offense had five runners with 39 yards or more on the day. Carolina had no runner gain more than 23 yards during the game.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF TURNOVERS: The Gators took advantage of three first quarter turnovers by the Gamecocks to take a 21-0 lead. Following the two interceptions, the Gamecocks tried a cross-field lateral on the kickoff that sailed high and wide of the target. James Smith recovered on the one (he was robbed! He was in!) and Tebow followed with a touchdown run to make it 21-0.
Meanwhile. South Carolina was unable to take advantage of first half fumbles by Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. The Gamecocks recovered Demps fumble at the USC 42-yard line and they couldn’t convert. They recovered Rainey’s loose ball at the USC 20-yard line, but Eric Norwood returned the ball 28 yards before Tim Tebow wrestled him down, giving Carolina the ball at their own 48-yard line. Again, South Carolina couldn’t take advantage of the turnover.
Zero points on two turnovers. You don’t win games like that and in this case, you don’t even compete.
SPEED: This game was won on the recruiting trail. Meyer has been adamant that the Gators have the fastest team on the field. Is there a faster offensive team in the country? I don’t think so. South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no answer for Florida’s skill position speed. There is more speed coming to the University of Florida campus too.
OUTCOACHED: Steve Spurrier has made a career out of outcoaching folks, but he didn’t get it done this game. Give Urban Meyer and his staff high praise for outsmarting the Gamecocks. Across the board, the Gators staff whipped the Gamecocks coaches in this game.
HICKS, HARVIN PLAYERS OF THE GAME: Sophomore outside linebacker Brandon Hicks was outstanding. He had just three tackles, but was instrumental in pressuring South Carolina quarterbacks Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia into mistakes. Hicks was credited with one sack, one tackle for loss, and two passes broken-up. He and Ryan Stamper have boosted the Gators playmaking ability at outside linebacker, which complements both Spikes in the middle and the secondary play in coverage.
What else can be written about Percy Harvin? He scorched the Gamecocks for 167 yards on just eight carries, 20.7 yards per carry. He scored a pair of rushing touchdowns. Harvin accounted for 173 yards of all-purpose yardage. Like Hicks, Harvin made the most of his time in the game.
WINNING THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE: Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of this game with the numerous big plays was just how dominant Florida played along the lines of scrimmage. Offensively, Florida ran for 346 yards on the day. Carolina rolled into Gainesville allowing just 101.4 yards per game. Ooops. The Gators ran for more than 1/3 of the rushing yards (1,014) the Gamecocks had allowed in 10 games this season. The offensive line knocked the Gamecocks off the ball and did so all day long. They might have contributed to losing Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson bonus money for having his defense’s ranked in various categories.
As ugly as this game turned out, The Citadel comes into Gainesville next Saturday afternoon for senior recognition day. You can expect some explosive numbers and a lot of playing time for the reserves.