From the first play of the game for the Gamecocks, things just didn't go the Gamecocks way.
South Carolina's first play from scrimmage was fumble from Gamecocks starting quarterback Connor Shaw that was recovered by Florida on the Gamecocks two-yard line. Three plays later, the Gators would score on the Jeff Driskel pass to Jordan Reed to take the 7-0 lead and wouldn't look back.
On the next kickoff, Bruce Ellington would return the kickoff to the South Carolina 21-yard line but fumbled. Luckily for South Carolina, the Gamecocks recovered. From there, South Carolina looked shaky at times but mounted a nice drive of 15 plays for 61 yards capped by an Adam Yates field goal that put the Gamecocks on the board.
It appeared the Gamecocks would being to take control as they forced a Florida punt on the very next series after a three-and-out by the Gators. The defense for South Carolina was strong early and it showed. Behind the play of DeVonte Holloman and Devin Taylor, the Gamecocks held Florida to just negative nine yards in the first quarter, including negative 13 yards on the ground. Yet, like they did all game, Florida was ahead after the first quarter 7-3.
The second quarter started much like the first quarter ended with the Gamecocks forcing Florida to punt. The Gamecocks would go on another impressive drive of 11 plays for 52 yards but ended with a blocked field goal attempt by Adam Yates. It's hard to say whether or not a score at this juncture would have changed the landscape of the game, but coming away with no points here was definitely one of the crucial moments of the first half.
The next series for Florida was again a three-and-out stop for the Gamecocks defense that forced a punt by Kyle Christy. However, as they did twice already, the Gamecocks fumbled the ball when Ace Sanders fumbled on the return. Florida got the ball at the Gamecocks 29-yard line and eventually scored on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Driskel to Quinton Dunbar. The Gators jumped up a 14-3 but still within reach for this Gamecocks offense.
On the following kickoff, the Gamecocks made a change to Damiere Byrd on the return hoping for a big play. They got one – just in the wrong way. Byrd fumbled the ball and it was recovered and returned to the South Carolina one-yard line. Two plays later, Florida scores again to make it 21-3 here.
South Carolina was able to salvage a field goal on the final drive of the game to bring the score to 21-6 at halftime.
Four fumbles by the Gamecocks, and three recoveries by the Gators in prime territory, essentially gave the Gators the game in the first half. You can make a case that South Carolina's offense struggles didn't help but when a team has 29 total offensive yards at halftime – and 21 points – it won't help your chances of coming away with a victory.
While the Gamecocks were down, they weren't certainly out. A two-possession game out of halftime is not insurmountable especially with the way the Gamecocks defense was performing up until that point in the game. A stop coming out of halftime for the Gamecocks would have been a nice way to start the half. However, the Gamecocks defense allowed two third-down conversions for the Gators on a 10-play, 59 yard drive that ended in a touchdown and basically ended all hopes of a South Carolina comeback.
From this point, South Carolina's offense would stall the rest of the game behind Dylan Thompson, after Coach Spurrier benched Connor Shaw due to his quarterback's issues of holding onto the ball too long.
Whether it was the fumbling, offensive struggles or the intimidating environment, it was just not meant to be for the Gamecocks. South Carolina suffered its first loss of the season in a similar environment last week, but had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds. Tonight's loss to Florida was over in the first half.
The Gamecocks will have a lot of questions to answer this week – namely who the starting quarterback is. It's certainly something that will be talked about in Columbia all week long until the Tennessee game next weekend.
Make no mistake, though, Steve Spurrier is not pleased.
"We must find the guys who really want to play for South Carolina," said Coach Spurrier after the game. "We got to re-evaluate a lot of personnel. We got to regroup somehow and do some thing differently."
What that may be, even the Head Ball Coach doesn't know. He just needs to figure it out quick or else a season with so much promise just a few short weeks ago could end up getting away in a real hurry.
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