Tim Tebow made a strong case to become the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy based on his play Saturday night, rushing for a school record five touchdowns and passing for two more in leading his team to a 51-31 victory over the Gamecocks. USC offense played gamely, but could not put up enough to counter the Tebow show.
The key statistic for South Carolina in their three straight losses prior to tonight’s game was getting in the hole early. In the previous three games, USC was outscored 45-3 in the first quarter. The Gamecocks started this game out the same way, when on the first offensive play of the game the handoff was fumbled, giving the Gators the ball on the USC 20.
Tim Tebow took the gift-wrapped drive starting in the red zone and finished it off with a five yard TD run himself, setting a new school record in the process. It was his fifteenth rushing touchdown of the season, a new single season record, eclipsing the previous record held by Emmitt Smith and Buford Long. He wasn’t close to being done for the night, rushing for four more scores and 120 yards. Tebow was 22-for-32 for a career-best 304 yards passing, and accounted for more than three-quarters of the offense for Florida.
The USC defense allowed the Gators to roll up 537 total yards in offense, a week after they allowed Arkansas to total 651 against them.
Florida Coach Urban Meyer said of his quarterback, “Tim Tebow did a great job. I didn’t know about the statistics on him, but this was a Heisman performance.”
With the win, the Gators kept alive their hopes of making the SEC title game. Their league schedule is done, and they must rely on Kentucky and Vanderbilt to have a shot at playing LSU for the conference title Dec. 1. They need the Wildcats to beat Georgia, and they need Tennessee to lose to either the Wildcats or the Commodores. They are now 7-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC.
South Carolina drops to 6-5 on the season and 3-5 in the SEC, finishing with a losing record in the conference for the second year in a row. Spurrier drops to 1-2 against his former team. It also is the first time a team has scored more than 50 on a Spurrier team since Florida's 62-24 loss to Nebraska in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
After four straight losses, something that had only occurred once before in his college coaching career, Head Coach Steve Spurrier began to look ahead to next season. “We’re just not a very good team right now,” he said. “Hopefully these young guys can get in the weight room, and not get shoved around. Next year.”
“We were getting shoved around on the line of scrimmage. The guys are trying, but we’re just not that good. The other team toyed with us. If we played them ten times, they’d probably beat us ten times. “Spurrier said.
South Carolina had some bright spots for the defense early, causing two turnovers on a team that had only given up twelve turnovers all season coming into the game. They also stopped Florida deep in Carolina territory on a fourth and one at the 33 yard line. But there was little to celebrate after the game. Cornerback Stoney Woodson said, “We just have to keep playing hard because the season isn’t over yet. We have not quit – we owe it to the seniors to go out and keep playing hard and finish strong.”
Quarterback Blake Mitchell passed for 316 yards and one touchdown, but Carolina only managed 68 yards rushing for the game. Senior running back Cory Boyd gained 44 of those yards, rushing for three short yardage touchdowns. Mitchell said, "We started out by giving them 14 points and that doesn't help us. We left too many points out there. We scored 31 points tonight, but it wasn't good enough to win."
After the initial score by the Gators, Carolina was unable to move the ball offensively, and Florida blocked Ryan Succop’s punt at the 22 yard line. The Gators were in business again just outside the Carolina red zone. Two plays later Tebow hit Jarred Fayson with a 22 yard touchdown pass. Florida missed the PAT, and UF led 13-0.
USC then made some noise on their next offensive drive, two consecutive 19 yard completions to McKinley. 23 yard reception to Jared Cook at the three yard line. Cory Boyd fumbled but Mitchell covered it for USC at the five. Mitchell then hit Cook for a five yard touchdown pass. Mitchell was four for four on the drive, and the Gamecocks pulled within 13-7.
After the Carolina defense made the fourth down stop, the USC offense could not convert, but Florida returned the turnover favor when they fumbled and Ladi Ajiboye recovered on the Gator 23. Dion Lecorn hauled in a 21 yard pass at the Gator two, and then Boyd punched it in for six, and with a good PAT by Ryan Succop, Carolina took the lead and made up for the two touchdowns they spotted Florida early. That was the high point of the game for the Gamecocks.
Carolina will have its first off-week of the season after playing for eleven consecutive weeks, before taking on arch-rival Clemson at home the following Saturday. Game time for the Clemson game will be announced on Monday.
Kenny McKinley extended his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 32, only two behind the all-time record holders Sterling Sharpe and Jermale Kelly, who are tied at 34 apiece. McKinley’s 95 yards tonight pushed his season total to 843, and moved him up to seventh place all-time in school history.
Blake Mitchell moved into third place all-time for career pass completions with 464, 101 behind Todd Ellis, who is in second place. He passed Phil Petty and Anthony Wright in career passing yards with 5708 total, also putting him in third place all-time. His TD pass in the first quarter put him in sole possession of fourth place at USC, with 35 passing touchdowns.
Cory Boyd tied his personal record with three touchdowns on the night, and his 44 yards on the night gave him 829 yards on the season, surpassing his previous high of 823 set last season.