Purifoy changes game with forced fumbles

On the first snap of the game, Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy got the call he loves. Cornerback blitz. In the sophomore's mind, he isn't a cornerback anyway. He's a linebacker. Purifoy wants to hit, and with an early shot at South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw on the line, he tried to fight the smile. He took a few steps towards to his right before creating the play of the game.

"I love blitzing," Loucheiz Purifoy said, this time not trying to hide the smile. "I've got the mindset of a linebacker. I just love hitting people. I'm real physical."

Purifoy delivered the big hit on Connor Shaw to force the fumble on the first snap of the game. The sophomore cornerback said he expected running back Kenny Miles to step over and block him, but it didn't happen. He blindsided Shaw, and the ball came out.

After it bouncing off players for both teams, Florida senior Lerentee McCray fell on the ball to give the offense perfect field position. It would cash in on a third down touchdown pass from Jeff Driskel to Jordan Reed. But it never would've happened without the hit.

"I always tell the players—play aggressive, we're going to call it that way," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. "(Defensive coordinator) Dan (Quinn) and I were talking at the hotel this morning and said ‘let's bring the pressure.' With Dan, you don't have to talk him out of it. It was a good call on his part. It was a real good tone setter for the game."

After the Gators took a 7-0 lead, Purifoy then caused another fumble on the South Carolina kickoff, but the Gamecocks recovered it.

Florida wasn't done forcing fumbles, though.

The Gators couldn't do much on offense and punter Kyle Christy was standing near his own goal line. He hit a 51-yard punt, but he gave South Carolina returner Ace Sanders, who came into the game second nationally in return yardage, a chance to make a play. Instead, Trey Burton flew in and knocked the ball out, leading to a Florida touchdown.

On the ensuing kickoff, Solomon Patton forced a fumble that Chris Johnson ran to the one-yard line. The Gators heard all offseason about the importance of forcing fumbles, and it showed on Saturday.

The film showed it could happen. Florida coaches talked all week about the South Carolina players carrying the ball far away from their body.

"We get excited about that a lot," said Purifoy, still grinning. "When you see people carrying the ball like that, and they don't like to hold it high and tight, you've got opportunities to make turnovers and get your offense back on the field so they can pound the ball."

Sanders was the big target. It was a gamble because of his elusiveness and ability to change field position with the ball in his hands, but the Florida coaches saw the weakness on film. He didn't take care of the ball enough for the Gators to stay away from him.

"Ace Sanders—he's a good returner, but you're running in traffic with the ball swinging," Purifoy said. "That's what we love to see."

After he forced two fumbles and added a tackle for a loss, Purifoy had a chance to deliver the knockout blow—from the Florida offense. He has seen time on offense this season, but he didn't have any opportunity to make a play like Saturday.

The Gators had a 22-point lead and forced a three-and-out from the Gamecocks. After taking over at the South Carolina 44-yard line, Purifoy came into the offensive huddle and Driskel called a play that involved a deep ball to the two-way player.

"I like it a lot," Driskel said. "It makes me feel like I'm back in high school."

Purifoy was open. Driskel dropped it perfectly over his shoulder, but it was dropped. There could've been a pass interference call, but Purifoy knows it's a play he has to make.

"I went to reach up, but he wasn't looking to play the ball," Purifoy said. "He was playing my arm. I should've pulled it in though. That's on me."

Purifoy's combination of speed and ball skills makes him an option at wide receiver for Florida. The Gators don't have much game breaking speed at receiver, so they're going to involve Purifoy more in the future.

It's a future that has Florida one game away from clinching the SEC East title and a spot in the conference championship game. It can happen next Saturday in Jacksonville against Georgia. Even with another big win over the Gamecocks, Purifoy knows there's more to be done.

"We still haven't met our expectations," Purifoy said. "We've got high expectations. We want to get to Atlanta."

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