Gamecocks go down with honor to #1 Gators

The Gamecocks gave the #1 Gators all they wanted for three quarters. With UF leading by a slim 17-14 margin, a key interception thrown by Stephen Garcia when USC was driving for a tie or the lead was the game-changing play that sealed their fate, and the Gators went on to win 24-14.

If the South Carolina coaching staff could have drawn up a blueprint for Saturday's game against the #1 Florida Gators, it would've been much like the actual game turned out. At least through three quarters.

The Gamecocks put up a gritty effort against Steve Spurrier's former team, but an interception by Florida DT Justin Trattou on the first play of the 4th quarter proved to be the turning point in a 24-14 defeat for USC. After scoring two touchdowns in the first half, the Gator defense stiffened, and gave up absolutely nothing after halftime.

After the game, Spurrier said, "(I'm) proud of the effort of our players. A lot of guys played their hearts out tonight, especially our defensive guys in the second half."

After falling behind early in the first half, the Gamecocks valiantly fought back, eventually heading to the locker room with the Gators having only a 17-14 lead. The Gamecocks' 14 points were the most any team had scored on the Gators in the first half this year.

South Carolina executed a masterful fake punt on 4th down on their first drive, with Spencer Lanning hitting D.J. Swearinger for the 18 yard gain down the sideline. However, the joy did not last long, as the Gamecocks were called for an illegal shift. Spurrier said that the referee told him that his linemen were not set on the play, resulting in the penalty.

On Florida's first drive, their offense showed why they are still very explosive despite their troubles this season.

Tim Tebow hit his roommate, wide receiver Riley Cooper on a slant pattern, and he did the rest, taking it 68 yards for the touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.

As flashy as the Gators were on their first drive, the Gamecocks were just as methodical on their second. Although it took over six minutes and 14 plays, USC tied the game at 7 on a one yard touchdown run by Brian Maddox.

This drive was sustained by excellent plays from Alshon Jeffery and Jason Barnes, who recovered his own fumble inside Florida's five yard line to give the Gamecocks 1st and Goal. Jeffery hauled in a pass for 24 yards on 3rd and 7, taking it all the way down to the Florida 18. Garcia hit a wide open Barnes, who's catch and fumble recovery went to the 1 yard line and set up Maddox's TD run.

Florida hit the grindstone next, going 61 yards in 11 plays, but stalling in the red zone and settling for a 32 yard field goal from Caleb Sturgis. Clifton Geathers was finally able to get some pressure on Tebow, and was credited with two quarterback hurries on the drive. Riley Cooper had another big play on the scoring drive, with a 30 yard catch, to go with his earlier 68 yard TD.

South Carolina quickly went three-and-out, as Garcia hit D.L. Moore on a slant, but the ball was bobbled and dropped.

The Gators were slightly more efficient on their first drive of the 2nd quarter, going 70 yards in 8 plays, capped by an excellent TD run from Emmanuel Moody. The transfer from Southern Cal caught the pitch from Tebow in the backfield, and shook off Antonio Allen on his way to the end zone. As quickly as the Gamecocks had taken some momentum away from the Gators after holding them to a field goal, Tim Tebow and Emmanuel Moody made them pay on defense.

The run game provided the boost for the Gamecocks starting their first drive of the 2nd quarter. Two rushes from Brian Maddox got the Gamecocks almost to midfield, but a fumble on a bad exchange between Stephen Garcia and Kenny Miles gave it right back to the Gators. The momentum switch was very costly for USC, as Tebow hit his favorite target, Riley Cooper, for a big first down on 3rd and 10 from the 50.

Geathers returned to the Gators backfield, forcing a 3rd and 13, and Darian Stewart forced Jeffery Demps out at the 34 on the swing pass. Sturgis had enough distance for the 52 yard FG he attempted, but it was wide left, and the Gamecock defense had finally stood tall in the first half.

The Gamecock wide receivers came back to life on the next drive, with 1st down catches from Moe Brown and Alshon Jeffery helping USC establish some offensive momentum. Jason Barnes didn't want to be left out, and did an excellent job staying in bounds after catching a pass, which he eventually took into the red zone at the Florida 12 yard line.

Weslye Saunders continued his resurgence into the Carolina offense, making a catch over two Florida defenders for a 9 yard touchdown catch. The play was reviewed, but Saunders got a foot in and gave the Gamecocks six.

The Gators went three and out for the second time, but South Carolina got the ball back with no timeouts and only 1:22 left on the clock. Just when the drive started to get rolling, Garcia took a huge hit from Gators cornerback Joe Haden, for a loss of 9 yards. The clock ran out on the Gamecock drive, but Spurrier and the boys had proven they could play with the Gators, at least for a half.

In the third quarter, the Gamecocks played stingy defense, and did not allow the return work of Brandon James to hurt them. Using almost the same blueprint from the first half, the Gamecock defense carried the day as the offense stalled. Neither offense came out gunning in the 2nd half. The Gators received the ball first, but Clifton Geathers again met Tim Tebow for a 9 yard loss on a sack. But the Gamecocks were pinned deep on their own five yard line by Florida punter Chas Henry.

The South Carolina offense started the second half going the wrong direction. After a bad snap was recovered for a 4 yard loss, the Gamecocks had a false start penalty, eventually giving them 3rd and 15 from the 1 yard line. Garcia's pass was tipped by Carlos Dunlap, and USC was forced to punt.

The Florida blitz constantly harassed the Gamecocks, leading to tipped passes and sacks from the beginning of the game.

Spurrier said, "Most of the time they were rushing five guys. We had guys assigned to them. We tried to get them offsides one time, and they called it on us. Maybe somebody jumped or jerked his head."

Brandon James appeared to have a big punt return for the Gators after fielding Spencer Lanning's punt near the Gator sideline, but Florida was called for an illegal block in the back. Still, the Gators began the drive with excellent field position at the SC 49.

Clifton Geathers continued his campaign for defensive player of the week on the next drive, stopping Jeffery Demps for a 5 yard loss. Tebow was taken down on 3rd down, and once again the Gators ran Caleb Sturgis out for a field goal of 50+ yards. This try was from 54 yards, but once again was wide left for the Gators. The score remained 17-14, as the Gamecocks got the ball back about midway through the 3rd quarter, with 8:48 remaining on the clock.

Weslye Saunders came out on the next drive to give the Gamecocks a spark, catching a 13 yard pass for a 1st down on the first play of the drive. As quickly as the drive showed promise, it stalled, with Garcia sacked for a loss by Will Hill on the play.

It was the Brandon James show again on the punt return, as he took the kick back 49 yards to the Gamecock 37 yard line. The Gators faced a 4th and 1 after Jeffery Demps got to the 28, but Tebow was stuffed by Gamecock all-star Eric Norwood. A turnover on downs prevented the Gators from adding to their three point lead.

After getting 3 first downs, the Gamecocks were faced with a 4th down of their own. Staring down a 4th and 2 from the Florida 35, Garcia rolled out, and with nobody open dodged several Gator defenders before getting a huge USC first down. The gutsy run symbolized the Gamecocks' night, as they showed flashes on the drive, but were unable to finish.

On 2nd and 15, Weslye Saunders took a tight end screen down to the 22 yard line, and the Gamecocks had another 3rd and 2 as time expired in the 3rd quarter.

The pass intended for Moe Brown was intercepted by Justin Trattou after it was tipped, and returned to the 26 yard line of the Gamecocks. The Gator offense used the momentum shifting play and quickly turned it into 7 points on a 1 yard Tim Tebow touchdown run.

After the game, Spurrier said how costly the interception was for his team.

"That turnover took a lot of steam (out of us)," stated Spurrier. "Give Florida credit. They played pretty well. I don't know if by their standards they thought they played super, but our defensive guys fought to the end of the game. We just got overpowered on offense in the fourth quarter. That's how it happened."

The Gamecocks caught a break after Florida put the kickoff out of bounds, and got the ball back at their own 40 yard line. On the ensuing drive, they once again went backwards, having to punt after two sacks on Garcia, and facing a 4th and 24.

James gave the Gators field position around midfield again, and the Gators took over on their own 46. The Gators made like the Gamecocks and went backwards, having to punt from midfield. Field position was unkind to the Gamecocks again, who started their next drive from their own 11. Once again, a combination of two penalties and a sack destroyed the drive, and USC was unsuccessful on a draw play on 3rd and 18 from their own 3.

The Gators moved down the field again on the following drive, but once again Sturgis sent a field goal wide left, and the score remained 24-14. Down 10 with only 4:01 left on the clock, the Gamecocks took over on their own 20. They picked up a first down, but the drive fell apart quickly. Garcia was sacked by Ryan Stamper, and following an incompletion to Weslye Saunders, was intercepted by DB Joe Haden. Haden, the player of the game with 11 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception, returned it to the SC 20. The Gators ran out the clock to end South Carolina's dream of an upset, and shatter the Gamecocks' five game home SEC winning streak.

Although the Gamecocks battled for all 4 quarters, it was an inefficient offense combined with a fast, blitzing Gator defense that spelled defeat in the end. In addition to the two interceptions, Garcia was sacked a total of six times.

"We're not good enough to pass block those guys," claimed Spurrier. "We have to (tell) Stephen to throw it away sometimes. We have to do a better coaching job."

The Gamecocks were held to only 247 offensive yards, and just 186 through the air. Field position was also costly for the Gamecocks, who could not sustain many long drives against the hungry Gator D.

"We didn't have much field position early. Unfortunately, I would have liked to see what would have happened (without the interception)." Spurrier did send his thanks to the fans, saying, "The fans were super. It was an electric atmosphere in the stadium. Our guys wanted to win for the fans and win it themselves. A couple of careless plays took us out."

The Gamecocks will have next weekend off before returning to Williams-Brice for their annual matchup with the Clemson Tigers.

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