Mark Zerof / USA TODAY Sports

Third-down conversions propel Florida Gators

Florida dominated third downs to finish its final conference game with a win.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- After going 3-13 on third downs last week while stealing a win from Vanderbilt, the Gators corrected that number on Saturday. Florida went 11-19 on third downs to while holding the Gamecocks to 3-10 on third down.

None of the conversions were more crucial than giving it to Kelvin Taylor late in the fourth quarter. Florida was cruising through most of the game with a 17-0 lead, but after the Gamecocks scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to cut the Gators’ lead to three points, Florida needed to run some clock.

After gaining one first down, the Gators were facing a third-and-eight situation at their 46-yard line. The offensive coaches were watching as the Gamecocks were bringing heavy pressure off the edge of the offensive line, leaving more open space in the middle. Instead of putting the ball in the air on what looked like an obvious passing down, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier dialed up an inside run that went 53 yards before Taylor was tackled at the one-yard line. He punched it into the end zone on the next play.

““We were just excited we blocked somebody. That was a bonus,” McElwain joked after another rough day in the run blocking. “Our guys did their job and as boring as that sounds, there’s something beautiful when all 11 guys do their job. Trust each other, and I tell you what, these guys, what they’ve done to give of themselves for the benefit of others and trust their teammate that they will do their job, man that’s something pretty special.”

Third down conversions became key early in the game as the Florida offense stayed on the field and found a way to put up points. On the Gators’ second drive of the game, they put together a trio of third-down conversions while picking up a fourth-and-one run from the South Carolina 41-yard line.

On Florida’s second touchdown drive, the Gators had four third-down conversions with the final one coming on a third-and-11 pass from quarterback Treon Harris to Jordan Cronkrite, who ripped the ball out of the hands of South Carolina cornerback Chris Lammons and sprinted to the end zone for an improbable touchdown. McElwain joked that the Gators got away with one on a play that should have ended in an interception, but their freshman running back made a play on the ball.

“You can see on the fourth down, (Florida players) didn’t even come to the sideline,” McElwain said of his team’s first touchdown drive. “They knew I was going to make them stay out there. It was their responsibility to go and get first down because they can.”

As the Gators continued to grind out third-down conversions, it gave their defense a chance to rest on the sideline. That also showed up on the field. The defense allowed 44 yards on 30 plays in the first three quarters while giving up just three first downs to South Carolina.

The fourth quarter was different -- as South Carolina put up 157 yards in the final 15 minutes but the defense was fresh and able to rebound late in the game because of what the offense did with the football. Florida won the time of possession battle 39:56-20:04.

“I told them at the beginning of the season, a great defense should be sitting their tail on the sideline because some of the time your best defense is your offense taking care of the ball,” McElwain said. “I think we had a couple drives in the double figures that took some time off the clock. That’s how we’ve got to play. Part of what we do as coaches is try to figure out what’s going to give the Gators the best opportunity to win the football game with the parts that we have, and if we play that way, we’re pretty darn good."

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