Christmas came early for the Florida Gators in the first quarter of their game against the Gamecocks, as USC gift-wrapped three turnovers deep in their own territory, which the Gators turned into 21 quick points. Despite a gutty performance by the USC defense, the total lack of a Gamecock offense meant the potent Florida offense was allowed to dominate the clock and the scoreboard, 56-6.
Since a loss to Ole Miss on September 27, the Florida Gators have eviscerated their SEC opponents, beating Arkansas by 31, LSU by 30, Kentucky by 58, Georgia by 39, and Vanderbilt by 28. They saved some of their best whoopem for South Carolina and Steve Spurrier, hanging 50 on the head ball coach and his team. It was Spurrier’s worst loss as a college football coach and the team's worst loss since their last game against Florida and Tim Tebow, a 51-31 debacle last November 10. Spurrier’s previous worst loss at USC was to Auburn his first year, a 48-7 loss on the plains on 10/01/2005.
Steve Spurrier was surprisingly stoic as he addressed the media after the game. He has clearly been upset after close losses, but this one he was almost upbeat and loose. “A loss is a loss – one point or 50 points,” he said. “The loss two years ago hurt worse than this one.” Florida blocked a last second kick two years ago to preserve a win, and went on to win the national championship.
“This (Florida) team is a lot better than the one two years ago,” he said. “That team (2006) had a chance because they won all the close ones. This team they’ve got now is a lot stronger, in my opinion.”
When the South Carolina defense was on the field in the first half, they held their own against the SEC’s most potent offense, with the exception of one dramatic drive. When the South Carolina offense was on the field, they couldn’t do much right, and did much wrong. With 4:37 left in the first quarter, Chris Smelley was intercepted by Brandon Spikes on his own 12 yard line, who returned it for a quick six. Seven ticks off the clock later, Smelley was again intercepted, this one by safety Ahmad Black, who returned it seven yards to the USC 26. Percy Harvin rushed over the left guard for 26 yards and another quick score.
Already down 14 points, USC reverted to trickery on the kickoff, with Dion Lecorn throwing a lateral pass along USC’s own goal line, which was promptly dropped by Chris Hail, and recovered by the Gators on the one yard line. The USC defense gamely held Florida out of the end zone for two plays before Tim Tebow ran it in for an insurmountable 21-0 lead before the first quarter had ended.
“We got pushed around on offense,” Spurrier said. “We couldn’t find a play (that worked). Charlie Strong had good coverage and good pass rushes. Add it all up and you get clobbered. So we got clobbered this year.”
Ellis Johnson’s defense did all they could to keep their team in the game in the first half, but one half of a good team wasn’t enough this time. On Florida’s first drive, the “goon squad” as the USC defense calls themselves, forced a fumble on a crushing hit by Jasper Brinkley, and Darian Stewart recovered for the Gamecocks on the USC 42. But the USC offense went three and out, and had to punt. The goon squad then forced the SEC’s most potent offense to again punt, and USC took over on their own 8 yard line, and Smelley threw the first of his interceptions.
South Carolina’s defense had only allowed 24 points by an opponent all year – by Vanderbilt and later Ole Miss until tonight’s shellacking by the Gators. In the second half, Tebow and company did what they do best, and abused the formerly highest rated defense in the SEC for 28 more points.
Spurrier said, “We forced our defense to play the whole game. The defense did a lot of good things. We forced six punts. We gave Florida way too many opportunities.”
The Florida quarterback was gracious in talking about his vanquished opponents this night. “(Spurrier) is a great coach,” he said. “Every team has its ups and downs. They’ve won some good games. They definitely have a great defense. He’s building them into a contender.”
The USC offense rushed for 5 net yards and passed for 74 yards in the first half, and never took their defensive brethren off their heels. You can’t give Tim Tebow and his offense that much rope without getting hanged, and the Gators went on a drive that gained 16 yards, then 17 yards, before a 54 touchdown strike by Tebow to Thompson put the Gators up 28-0.
The Gators gift-wrapped some decent field position for the Gamecocks late in the first half when they kicked the ball out of bounds on a kickoff, resulting in the Gamecocks starting on their 40. Then a defensive holding penalty took the ball to mid-field, but all USC could make out of it was a 41 yard field goal by Ryan Succop.
The second half was all Gators. They got the ball first to start the half, and they wasted no time piling on, as Percy Harvin took the first play 80 yards for another score, and it was officially a rout, 35-3. After USC put Succop in position for a 44 yard field goal, Jeffery Demps finished the next drive with a 38 yard touchdown run. Rubbing salt in the wound, Florida went for it on 4th down on their next drive and got it. As the fourth quarter began, Tebow hit Aaron Hernandez for a five yard touchdown pass, and the Gators now led 49-6. Backup running back Chris Rainey rushed three straight plays for Florida’s final touchdown.
South Carolina had only given up five rushing touchdowns all season long coming into the game. They gave up five to the Gators, and allowed 346 rushing yards, and 519 total offensive yards. In their last six games, the Gators have outscored their opponents 101-0 in first quarter points. Being just the latest victims didn’t take the sting out for the Gamecock players.
Tackle Jarriel King said, “No one wants to play a game the way we did. We made mistakes and they took advantage of their opportunities.”
Spurrier again alternated quarterbacks Stephen Garcia and sophomore Chris Smelley. Both QBs had the exact thing to say about the opposing defense after the game: “That was the best defense I have ever played against.” Smelley was 13-24 with two interceptions. Garcia was 6-13 with one interception.
Spurrier said, “Sometimes getting your butt beat real good is better than a one or two pointer. We’ll find out when we play Clemson in two weeks if we can regroup or not.”
The Gamecocks have an off week before facing arch-rival Clemson on their home turf on November 29. The game time has not yet been announced.