Florida’s defense delivers South Carolina beatdown

South Carolina gave up. Called uncle. Threw in the towel. Waived the white flag. Beaten into submission.

Whatever it’s called, Florida’s defense delivered an old-fashioned beatdown en route to a 44-11 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.

It was such a dominating performance that the No. 2 Gators got the then-No. 7 team in the nation to tap out long before the final buzzer sounded.

The white flag came in the form of Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier replacing starting quarterback Connor Shaw in the second half. With nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, backup Dylan Thompson trotted onto Florida Field.

Shaw said he found out at halftime and said, “I guess I wasn’t getting the job done.”

Spurrier said the entire team wasn’t.

Facing a 21-6 halftime deficit, the Gamecocks gave in, instead of digging in.

“The only thing you can hope is that your guys give it their best shot,” Spurrier said. “And not just lay down and basically say, ‘Here Florida, we don’t want to win. You guys take this fumble and this fumble and this fumble.’

“So it was sad, and on the other side, their defense stuffed us.”

The Gators’ defense did it by slowing a running team down to a slow crawl. South Carolina netted just 36 yards on 26 carries after entering Saturday averaging 160.4 rushing yards per game.

They also stuffed the passing game. The Gamecocks, who had averaged 217.9 passing yards per game, finished with 155. Shaw and Thompson combined to complete 17 of 40 passes, with two completions each for 20 yards serving as the longest plays of the game. Shaw entered the game with a completion percentage of 69.4.

It was the second time in the past three weeks Florida has kept a top-10 opponent from scoring a touchdown.

Two field goals came in the first half, with the first benefitting from a pair of UF penalties totaling 30 yards. The second scoring drive also was penalty aided when a Jelani Jenkins interception was nullified by Lerentee McCray lining up in the neutral zone.

The 191 yards was a season low for the Gamecocks.

“We didn’t make much,” Spurrier said. “One thing we must do is find guys that really want to play for South Carolina.”

When a head coach is left questioning his team’s character and willingness to play like that, it’s because his team was just beaten so badly that it seemed as if players didn’t even want to take the field.

There’s a flip side of that equation: the winning coach’s demeanor.

With about 13 minutes remaining in regulation, the CBS camera cut to Florida coach Muschamp on the sideline. Gone were the usual stress lines he wears at this stage in most games. He didn’t even look like he wanted to yell at any officials.

The usually animated coach looked comfortable thanks to a comforting lead. He actually looked pretty chill, or relaxed, if you will.

Muschamp’s defense was animated enough during the rout. It began with Loucheiz Purifoy’s fumble-forcing blitz on the game’s opening play.

When Purifoy saw Shaw wasn’t at quarterback anymore by the start the second, it was a signal of “mission accomplished” for the defense.

“That was our plan: get Shaw out of the game, because you know he can’t throw,” Purifoy said. “Get No. 17 (Thompson) in and just make plays. They can’t stop our D-line. They’re monsters all over the D-line.”

Tackle Sharrif Floyd is the scariest monster up front, and he did his best to spook Spurrier’s Gamecocks on the opening play of the second half. It was Thompson’s first snap at quarterback, and set the tone for the rest of the game — just as Purifoy’s play did to begin the first half.

After smothering running back Mike Davis for a 3-yard loss, Floyd stomped away toward the UF sidelines. He then looked over to the USC sidelines while shaking his head. It was the same “don’t-even-try-it” look Floyd flashed to the Gamecocks’ sidelines after he stuffed running back Marcus Lattimore at the line of scrimmage in the first half.

Following an incompletion, Thompson took his third snap of the game out of a shotgun formation. Gators defensive end Dominque Easley forced Thompson out of the pocket when he came free on an inside stunt. Easley then ran Thompson down from behind for a sack.

Easley pounded his chest with both hands, a move that looked like King Kong.

It was the first of a pair of three-and-out possessions on South Carolina’s on two series of the third quarter. Florida finished the game with nine tackles for a loss, including four sacks.

The last sack is worth noting as well. It was the first for true freshman Buck end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., who gave a hand salute after jumping to his feet.

Of course, the difference was Florida forcing five turnovers, and Spurrier’s reaction to the last one summed up the entire game.

Gators reserve safety Jabari Gorman, playing zone coverage, stepped in front of a Thompson pass attempt for an interception at the five-minute mark in the final quarter.

Spurrier had seen enough, and covered his face with his play sheet as he helplessly looked to the sky.

It was too late for any divine intervention, though.

“We can’t watch these guys that are laying on the ground,” said Spurrier, who dropped to 3-5 all-time vs. his alma mater. “It could have been a heck of a game for everybody.

“It was embarrassing for us, very embarrassing the way we played.”

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Mike Capshaw brings a wealth of experience to the Gator Country team. He’s been overseeing all editorial aspects of GatorCountry.com and Gator Country magazine by managing our team of staffers, interns and freelancers. He is now moving into a bigger role as a reporter by covering the football and basketball beats as well as providing coverage of all sports on campus. Mike’s 15 years in the business has included more than six years of covering SEC sports and recruiting at a daily newspaper in Arkansas. He has also helped launch a newspaper, magazines, websites and even a sports talk radio show. Because Mike puts family ahead of his career, he left the place where he was established when his wife received an opportunity to further her career at UF. He took a leap of faith that he could find a job in the Gainesville area and worked for a year at a newspaper group before joining the Gator Country family in November, 2011. Mike has won Florida Press Association awards for Best Sports Game Story and Best Sports Feature Story in the past two years as well as a company-wide award at his former newspaper group that includes some 60 publications, for Excellence in Sports Reporting. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeCapshawGC.