It wasn’t pretty but head coach Jim McElwain was only concerned with the final outcome.
“Gators around the country should be really proud of this football team because they’ve figured out the art of winning,” Florida first-year head coach Jim McElwain said. “They’ve figured out how to do it.”
For three quarters, the Gators were in complete control. After a third quarter in which the Florida defense held South Carolina to -9 yards of total offense, the Gators held a 17-0 lead and seemed headed for a cruise control shutout. But, the Gamecocks rallied behind quarterback Perry Orth and wide receiver Pharoh Cooper for a couple of touchdowns that injected life in what was left of a Williams-Brice Stadium crowd that had been heading for the exits the past 10 minutes.
With a 17-14 lead and just under five minutes to go in the game, the Gamecocks were energized and Florida was on the ropes but that changed with a 53-yard run by Taylor on a third-and-8 with just under two-and-a-half minutes to go. On the play, South Carolina dialed up a run blitz that Florida’s offensive line picked up nicely. With a crease just off the right guard, Taylor got to the second level, made a defender miss at the South Carolina 45 and then made it a sprint to the goal line. Caught at the South Carolina 1, Taylor got the call on the next play to score his 12th touchdown of the year with 2:01 remaining. Austin Hardin came on to add the final offensive touch with the extra point.
When South Carolina got the ball back, Quincy Wilson came through with an interception to drive the stake in the Gamecocks’ hearts.
Florida got a pair of first half touchdowns from Jordan Cronkrite to take a 14-0 lead at the half. Cronkrite got into the end zone on a 3-yard run with 1:50 to go in the first quarter and caught a 32-yard scoring pass from Treon Harris in the second quarter.
In a third quarter marred by Harris’ second interception of the day, Florida put together a drive that ended with a 39-yard field goal by Austin Hardin for a 17-0 lead. At that point, the Gators were completely dominant but South Carolina woke up early in the fourth quarter when South Carolina stopped the Gators for a 4-yard loss on a fourth-and-2 call at the South Carolina 32.
The defensive stop changed the complexion of the entire game. Orth suddenly had time to throw and receivers found open space. The Gamecocks drove to the Florida 17 where Orth and Cooper connected on a trick play that caught the Gators flat-footed. Orth threw a long lateral to Cooper behind the line of scrimmage and Cooper threw back to Orth for a touchdown pass with 8:59 to go.
The Gamecocks came up with a 3-and-out to stop the Gators, then marched 79 yards down the field, scoring on a 38-yard Orth to Cooper pass straight down the middle of the field with 4:49 left in the game.
That set the stage for Taylor’s big run as the Gators restored order on the field.
Florida finished the game with 404 total yards while the UF defense held South Carolina to 201, only 21 on the ground.
Harris threw for 256 yards with Antonio Callaway (60 yards) and Jake McGee (45) catching five each.
Taylor led Florida’s rushing attack with 105 yards on 20 carries.
Florida finished with 20 first downs and a whopping 39:56 time of possession. Florida ran 76 plays while South Carolina only had 48. Florida converted 10-18 on third down while holding South Carolina to only 3-10.
Florida plays host to Florida Atlantic next Saturday while South Carolina, assured of a losing record and no bowl game, will play host to The Citadel.
FLORIDA 7, SOUTH CAROLINA 0; 1:50
On their second possession of the game, the Gators put together one of their best drives of the season, marching 87 yards in 15 plays while taking 6:38 off the clock. The touchdown came on a 3-yard run by Jordan Cronkrite after a Treon Harris-to-Brandon Powell 9-yard pass to convert a critical third down. The Gators converted three third downs and one fourth down on the drive. A Harris-to-Kelvin Taylor screen pass was good for 15 yards to midfield on a third-and-11. Jordan Scarlett eked out a first down by an inch on a fourth-and-1 to the South Carolina 40 to set up a 26-yard Harris pass to Antonio Callaway to the SC 14. Four plays later, Cronkrite bulled his way into the end zone off the left side and Austin Hardin added the extra point.
FLORIDA 14, SOUTH CAROLINA 0; 8:17
Jordan Cronkrite got his second touchdown of the game by literally outfighting South Carolina cornerback Chris Lammons for the football. On a third-and-11 from the South Carolina 41, Harris rolled to his right and threw a 50-50 pass to the 12-yard line that had interception written all over it. Lammons seemed poised to make the interception but Cronkrite outmuscled him for the catch, turned and literally strolled into the end zone. The scoring drive covered 76 yards in 12 plays and used up 7:11 off the clock with the Gators converting all four of their third down conversions. Harris completed 4-4 passes for 58 yards on the drive.
FIRST HALF SUMMARY: Florida dominated time of possession (19:58-10:02) and outgained the Gamecocks 200-53. Florida controlled the ball for 19:58 and converted 7-11 on third down and 1-1 on fourth down. The Gators had 40 offensive snaps while the Gamecocks had only 21. Harris was 11-21 for 164 yards and a TD.
FLORIDA 17, SOUTH CAROLINA 0; 4:50
After the UF defense forced consecutive 3-and-outs, the Gators got a scoring drive going that ended with a 39-yard field goal by Austin Hardin. The 12-play, 70-yard scoring drive began on the Florida 9 and got early help from a 15-yard facemask penalty against the Gamecocks. Key plays on the drive were a 10-yard Harris pass to Demarcus Robinson for a third down conversion and an 11-yard Harris-to-Powell pass. A 16-yard Harris-to-Jake McGee pass set up the field goal. The drive consumed 6:20 off the clock.
SOUTH CAROLINA 7, FLORIDA 17; 8:59
The Gamecocks finally got some offense going after stopping the Gators on a fourth down early in the fourth quarter. The 8-play, 64-yard drive culminated with a gadget play, a flanker throwback when Pharoh Cooper took a long lateral from Perry Orth, then threw back to Orth for the touchdown. Elliott Fry’s extra point cut the Florida lead to 17-7.
SOUTH CAROLINA 14, FLORIDA 17, 4:49
After forcing a 3-and-out, the Gamecocks put together their second straight scoring drive, taking only five plays to go 79 yards with the touchdown coming on a 38-yard Orth-to-Cooper pass down the middle of the field. On the drive, Orth completed 3-3 of his passes for 75 yards.
FLORIDA 24, SOUTH CAROLINA 14; 2:01
Just when the Gamecocks thought they had the momentum to spring the upset, Kelvin Taylor came through with the play of the game, a 53-yard run straight up the gut to the South Carolina 1. It was third-and-8 at the Florida 46 when Taylor busted loose against a South Carolina defense that sold out to stop the run, but Taylor had a crease and once past the line of scrimmage it became a foot race. Taylor was stopped at the 1, but scored on the next play to totally suck the wind out of everyone dressed in garnet and black in the entire stadium.