Penalty problems for Florida Gators

The Gators played in front of 90,883 on Saturday, the fifth-largest crowd ever in The Swamp.

Though there were large sections of South Carolina fans, the stadium was predominantly filled with Gators fans who walked away thrilled with a 44-11 win.

The win moved the Gators one step closer to the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division crown and again legitimized their No. 2 ranking in the BCS standings.

However, masked in all of that is a glaring issue that continues to plague the team: penalties.

Florida finished with seven penalties for 74 yards. Conversely, the Gamecocks were penalized just three times for 26 yards.

This season, Florida is tied for No. 29 with 102 penalties. In yardage, the Gators are No. 44 with 861 penalty yards.

However, more important than the raw number of penalties is the situations in which many of them have been called. Saturday, they came at many inopportune times.

On three separate occasions, the game was drastically changed because of infractions by the Gators.

With Florida grabbing early momentum from a forced fumble by Loucheiz Purifoy and touchdown pass from Jeff Driskel to Jordan Reed, the Gators had a chance to quickly get their defense off the field on the next drive.

Connor Shaw used his mobility to bide time and find Justice Cunningham for a first down, South Carolina’s first of the game, on second down.

However, the offense stalled three plays later, and South Carolina was forced to punt. Instead of getting the ball back with a seven-point lead, a Gators miscue gave South Carolina new life.

Antonio Morrison, who was lined up over the long snapper, initiated contact after the snap. By rule, a defender must wait for one second before contacting the snapper.

It was ruled Morrison did not wait the necessary time, and a personal foul was called.

South Carolina used the new set of downs to kick a field goal.

Later in the first quarter, the Gators again cost themselves with a penalty. On this occasion, points were taken off the board.

Having been unable to develop much offense in Florida’s first three possessions, offensive coordinator Brent Pease dialed up a deep pass for Driskel on first down from the South Carolina 41-yard line.

Omarius Hines beat the coverage and snagged the pass in the end zone, a highlight-reel one-handed grab.

However, Mike Gillislee was called for a chop block on Jadaveon Clowney, bringing the ball back to the Florida 44-yard line. In the end, the Gators were forced to punt on the drive.

As the first half ticked down, the final eye-opening infraction occurred.

With South Carolina driving, looking to gain momentum before halftime, Jelani Jenkins intercepted a pass by Shaw.

Jenkins’ leaping grab earned him praise on the Gators sidelines. Coach Will Muschamp rushed Jenkins, tackling him to the ground.

Again, the play was nullified because of a penalty. Lerentee McCray was called for lining up in the neutral zone, allowing South Carolina to maintain possession.

The Gamecocks kicked a field goal before the end of the half, drawing within 21-6.

Though the Gators came out and dominated the second half, rendering the first-half infractions mostly moot, it is a problem the Gators must correct moving forward.

Muschamp and Co. has talked at length about this being a stronger team mentally this season. The results have mostly shown that to be true.

The offensive line is punishing defenses. The defense is suffocating offenses. The special teams may be the nation’s best.

Still, penalties have continued to plague the Gators.

It hasn’t cost the team yet, but with games against Georgia, Florida State and possibly Alabama still on the schedule, it is something the Gators must improve on.