Florida Gators pluck South Carolina Gamecocks

Loucheiz Purifoy first saw it in film leading up to Saturday’s game.

South Carolina’s players — particularly return man Ace Sanders — had a tendency to not properly secure the ball. “Violators” he called them, players who have shown the propensity to fumble.

“They don’t hold it high and tight like you’re supposed to,” Purifoy said. “They don’t take pride in holding the ball the right way, so get it out.”

In No. 2 Florida’s 44-11 win against No. 7 South Carolina, the Gators got the ball out — forcing three first-half fumbles to thoroughly control the game.

Purifoy created the first turnover of the game, not from Sanders but South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who was targeted as South Carolina’s top violator.

On the Gamecocks’ first offensive play of the game, Shaw took a snap from the shotgun and was blindsided by Purifoy, who came from the signal caller’s right on a cornerback blitz.

The decision to begin the game with a blitz came from a meeting between UF head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in the team hotel prior to the game. Muschamp said he told Quinn to dial up the pressure early and often against the South Carolina offense.

Quinn obliged.

Purifoy heard the blitz call, and his eyes lit up. Florida’s most physical cornerback was ready to make a play.

He crept in as the snap drew near. Closer … closer … closer.

Shaw snapped the ball. He looked left. Purifoy came crashing and just before he slammed into Shaw, the quarterback attempted to make a move to get free.

“He took a step in to make me bite,” Purifoy said. “He really made me bite.

“But he stuck the ball out, He shouldn’t have did that.”

Purifoy punched at the ball, sending it rolling. Following a scrum, Lerentee McCray recovered the ball, giving the Florida offense field position deep in South Carolina territory.

Three plays later, Jeff Driskel found Jordan Reed in the end zone for the game’s first score.

“That was our momentum,” Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. “And we refused to give it back.”

Not only did the Gators refuse to give it back, they continued fighting for more.

Midway through the second quarter, it was Sanders who became a violator. 

Kyle Christy boomed a 51-yard punt. Sanders fielded the ball and began to head up field. Purifoy was there again, this time slowing Sanders.

Seconds later, Trey Burton crashed in, swiping the ball out and eventually recovering it.

“That’s a playmaker right there,” Purifoy said of Burton. “That’s what he does. I stop the runner’s feet, and he just goes and makes the play.”

Said Burton of the play: “If you hit guys hard enough, they’ll let it go.”

Sanders did let it go. Six plays later, the Gators were back in the end zone, stretching their lead to 14-3.

“There was a lot of comments made from their players toward being physical, and we just gave them what they wanted,” Purifoy said. “They wanted a physical game, and that’s what we’re going to give them.”

On the ensuing kickoff, South Carolina again cost itself. This time, return man Damiere Byrd was stripped by Solomon Patton. Florida’s Chris Johnson picked up the ball and returned it to the USC 1-yard line.

Two plays later, Driskel hit Reed for his second touchdown of the game.

In 58 seconds, the Gators put the game away with back-to-back scores on two forced turnovers.

With the three fumble recoveries and a Jabari Gorman interception late in the game, the Gators are now plus-11 in turnover margin this season. Muschamp said that is a necessity for his team to keep winning.

“We need to be good in turnover margin,” he said. “We’re not a good enough team to go out and turn the ball over, be careless with the ball and not gain some positive field position.”

Despite the win, Muschamp is correct.

The offense is still a work-in-progress. Driskel failed to throw for 100 yards for the third consecutive game and on Saturday, the usually effective running game failed to gain much traction.

However, the team won with a familiar formula: good defense and great special teams.

Now, the Gators are a win away from clinching the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.