Without an explosive offense, the Gators are getting just what they need out of the special teams. Whether it was a Kyle Christy booming seven punts with the shortest being 51 yards or Caleb Sturgis pinning a kickoff deep in play and allowing the coverage to suffocate the Gamecocks, the Gators were as effective as they needed to be on special teams. Sharrif Floyd even added a blocked field, the second for the Gators in as many weeks.
The lack of an explosive offense makes it even more important.
Andre Debose added a 19-yard punt return in the first quarter. The punt return unit was the part of special teams that had struggled the most early in the season, but they're starting to come on with Debose making plays with the ball in his hands.
Debose opened the second half with a 39-yard return to give the Gators the ball at their own 41-yard line to start the drive. A 10-play, 59-yard drive put the Gators up 27-8 and had all the momentum, and shortening the field by Debose was a big reason.
"Proud of Andre. He works hard at it," Muschamp said. "He catches a lot of punts every day and does a good job of fielding the ball in critical situations in traffic. It's not ‘add player, instant water.' You've got to coach guys and develop them, regardless of what the recruiting sites say. Football is a developmental game."
The emphasis on special teams isn't something new. Muschamp estimated 25 minutes at every practice where the Gators turn their complete attention to special teams.
"We meet—a lot. What you emphasize is what's important," Muschamp said. "Going into the season, I knew we had good team speed, good returners, good specialists."
INJURY REPORT: Florida defensive tackle Damien Jacobs went down during the first half and returned to the sideline in street clothes during the second half. Jacobs said after the game that he injured his hamstring but expected to be fine for next weekend's game against Georgia.
SECOND HALF OFFENSE KEY: Instead of the Gators coming out and sitting on the ball with hopes to run clock, Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease wanted to exploit what he saw. He came into the coaches' normal halftime meeting and told the other assistants that he was "very comfortable" with some of the things he saw developing.The Gators started to attack the perimeter with success. They used the Gamecocks' aggression in the pass rush against them with screens, particularly a tight end screen to Jordan Reed for 39 yards to convert in a 2nd and 15 situation. Whatever the play call, Pease dialed it up perfectly.
"We were able to move the ball and go to some things we saw at halftime and felt like we could take advantage of offensive," Muschamp said.
The Gators had just 29 yards of offense in the first down. On the first drive of the second half, Florida went 59 yards down the field.
The offense wasn't sexy, but it was effective. It's what the Gators are on offense right now.
"Our style of play will continue to evolve as we're here," Muschamp said. "It's who we are at this point. Will we be who we are in three weeks or next season? I don't think so. We'll continue to evolve what we want to be. We want to be more balanced and vertically stretch the field."
LOOKING AT GEORGIA: As soon as the game came to an end, the Florida team flipped its focus to playing Georgia next week. The winner of the matchup will likely be the team that represents the SEC East in the conference championship game.With talks of the BCS Championship starting to grow, Muschamp continued to remain cautious.
"We play in Jacksonville next week," he said. "We've got one game. One game season."
The players are buying into it. They remember the pain and hurt from playing against Georgia and losing last season, and they're going to take that into the 2012 game.
"There's a lot of hate and anger going into that Georgia game," Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy said. "It's going to be tough for them."