The game was higher scoring than most everyone expected it to be in part due to Florida handing Carolina an early touchdown. But mostly because the Florida defense never made a clutch play and appeared to have made a group decision to make certain no Carolina runner was hit hard and none were put down until they had added at least five yards to the play.
The Gator kicking game was awful as Eric Wilbur reverted to his early-season lack of form. Chad Jackson was way too deep on punt return (rugby kicks don't go as far folks!) and thus short punts rolled for a total of more than 50 yards extra. Those failures led to Florida having to deal with terrible situation for almost the entire game. The Gators gave away their 113 yard advantage in total offense with the net punting and penalty differential.
Offense Moved Ball OK, But….
The absence of big plays continue to plague this offense, forcing the Gators to execute far too many plays to get the ball into the end zone. Florida ran the ball at will, with Gator tailbacks gaining 168 on just 29 carries (5.8). However the coaching staff didn't seem to have the will to keep running at times. The offensive line pass blocked quite poorly forcing Leak to scramble more than he should. That's hard to understand when you are running the ball effectively and are often throwing in good down-and-distance situations.
I was stunned to see the offense huddle up with the clock running during the final UF possession. I was equally stunned to see the Gators run the ball on first down twice during that possession. That includes running the ball on 2nd-and-ten with 4:30 to play down two scores. There is no way on earth to justify that play call. There is no way to justify huddling when the clock is running and you are two scores down after the midpoint of the 4th quarter. The biggest issue with the offense came very early, when they had the ball around midfield and Chris Leak tried to soft-toss the ball on third down. It was deflected, intercepted and returned to the five yard-line giving the Gamecocks an easy score. That score, in essence was the difference in the game.
Defense Not As Good As The Stats
If you had told Urban Meyer before the game his defense would hold South Carolina to 246 yards he would have taken it, no questions asked. But the Gator defense was an odd unit today with only two guys playing with intensity. Marcus Thomas seemed to be the only lineman interested in the game, while Brandon Siler was in the same situation at linebacker. Florida's secondary could not possibly tackle worse. In fact, the biggest play of this game (and maybe the season) was a short pass that became a huge gainer due to blown tackles by Dee Webb and Kyle Jackson. Most of Carolina's offense seemingly involved yards after the first hit. The worst running offense in the SEC was allowed to run for 120 yards and picked up whatever was needed each and every time.
Coaching Decisions Hard To Figure
In addition to the incomprehensible lack of urgency on the final drive that led to a field goal, other sideline decisions were hard to understand. Florida ran some delayed blitzes that had no chances of getting to the quarterback but opened up underneath routes for first down completions. Florida strangely decided not to try to tie the game after driving for a touchdown early in the third quarter. You don't chase points in the first half, but you must try to tie the game when you have a chance in the fourth quarter.
The Gators also waited a most valuable time out with 3:22 and the clock stopped. That just can't happen. And the ultimate coaching gaffe was having 12 men on the field after a Carolina time out prior to the late-game punt.
Had the Gators not had that huge penalty and not wasted a time out, they would have had the all at the 22 with about 1:45 to play. Instead they didn't even get the ball back.
Officials Did their Part
I'm not one to job on the bandwagon when it comes to blaming officials for the outcomes of any game, but the officiating Gods were smiling on the Gamecocks in this one. Florida was penalized eleven times for 86 (with two or three more declined) while Carolina got just four flags for 20. Dee Webb was flagged four times; the last of which was hard to figure. A 66-yard discrepancy is pretty significant, especially when you realize South Carolina went into the game averaging two more penalty yards per game than its opponents.
And don't just take my word for it. On his post-game radio show the Head Ball Coach said, " we got some nice penalties against those guys too ". The Gators now stand at a minus-32 yards a game in penalties… that's about ten yards per game worse than any other team in the league.
But the worst of the officiating against UF was in the booth where a crucial pass to Dallas Baker with just over three minutes to go was not reviewed. The replays on Jefferson Pilot seemed to clearly show a catch at the one yard-line. If the Gators reach the end zone on the next play, the possibilities are a whole lot better. Maybe a replay reviewer would have deemed the play too close for an overrule. But to not stop the game and take a look was typical of the incompetence that all too often leaves a sour taste at the end of SEC football games.