When the third quarter came to a close on Saturday in Columbia, the Gators were in command of a 17-0 lead that looked insurmountable thanks to their suffocating defense. That defense soon looked average at best.
After the Gators allowed 44 yards on 30 plays during the first three quarters, they gave up on 157 yards on 18 plays in the fourth quarter.
For a group currently ranking in the top two in the Southeastern Conference at total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense, that kind of breakdown was surprising to even the players. South Carolina scored its first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns on a trip play where wide receiver Pharoh Cooper hit quarterback Perry Orth for a touchdown, but there weren’t many other trick plays involved. The Gators simply got beat in ways they weren’t during the first three quarters.
According to some of the Florida players, the fourth quarter issues happened because of an unfamiliar problem -- the offense had the ball too long. The Gators won the time of possession battle 39:56-20:04, and the defense wasn’t where it needed to be mentally late in the game.
“[We’re] used to our offense being three-and-out, and we’re back on the field,” Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison said. “Our offense (was) on the field so long, we’re sitting so long. It’s still not an excuse, it’s still not acceptable what happened in South Carolina. We’re still getting acclimated, that’s the main point in practice.”
“We had a little slip up there. That’s unacceptable and it should’ve never happened.”
After South Carolina’s back-to-back touchdown drives cut the Florida lead to 17-14, the Florida offense took control. In recent years, that might not have happened. But this season, the Florida offense completed a six-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a one-yard run by Kelvin Taylor to give the Gators a 24-14 lead they would hold.
The Gamecocks had another drive, but it ended when Quincy Wilson intercepted a pass from Orth to seal the game. The players have still heard a lot about their slip up and know that they have to be more focused if the opportunity presents itself again this season.
“We just need to work on finishing games,” Wilson said. “Sometimes we might get a little bored because we’re just killing them. We’ve just go to stay on point because they hit us with a trick play. We have to make sure we’re staying on point, staying on point throughout the game.”
“We probably ready to get the game over, we knew we were going to win. We’ve just got to make sure we’re staying on point because anything can happen.”