It was a tale of two halves, but in the end, the University of Florida simply couldn’t come up with enough plays, falling 17-12 at South Carolina Saturday afternoon.
After trailing 14-3 at the half, the Gators made a valiant rally, cutting the game to 14-12 after a 2-yard touchdown run by Jacoby Brissett. A game-tying two-point conversion failed, South Carolina added a field goal, and the Gators were unable to complete the comeback.
The Gators (5-5, 3-5) got 21-yard and 24-yard field goals from Caleb Sturgis while Connor Shaw scored a pair of touchdowns, a 10-yard scramble and a 1-yard keeper for South Carolina (8-2, 6-2), as the Gators has trouble stopping the run.
South Carolina rolled up 215 yards on the ground, getting 120 yards on 29 carries from Brandon Wilds and 88 yards and two touchdowns from Shaw.
Both teams got off to slow starts offensively. Florida received the kick but on the game’s third play starting quarterback John Brantley was sacked and fumbled at the Gators’ 35-yard line. The Gator defense came up strong, however, forcing South Carolina into a fourth-and-11 from the Florida 36, but a pass from Gamecock quarterback Shaw fell incomplete.
The momentum swung briefly in the Gators’ favor on the second drive of the game for South Carolina when Shaw was intercepted by De’Ante Saunders and the Gamecocks’ 48-yard line setting up the game’s first score.
Jeff Demps came up with runs of 10 and 15 yards, then a 19-yard run by Chris Rainey gave the Gators a first-and-goal at the South Carolina 2-yard line. Florida was unable to punch it across the goal line, however, and settled for a 21-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis with 6:01 left in the opening quarter.
South Carolina appeared poised to respond, primarily on the legs of Shaw, who had runs of 18 and nine yards, then a five-yard run on fourth and short to set up a 40-yard field goal attempt by Jay Wooten. The kicker pushed the attempt wide right and the Gators maintained their lead.
The Gamecocks took advantage on their next possession, grabbing the lead on Shaw’s 10-yard touchdown run with 7:07 remaining in the half. Steve Spurrier gambled again on fourth down, and once again it paid off, facing a fourth-and-1 at the South Carolina 47-yard line, Kenny Miles picked up a two-yard gain. Brandon Wilds burst up the middle for a 20-yard gain to the Gators’ 15-yard line, then moments later Shaw capped the 11-play, 62-yard drive.
With a drive that was approaching midfield, the Gators shot themselves in the foot on their next possession when Demps fumbled at the Florida 46-yard line. South Carolina continued to pound away at the Gators’ defensive line, using 11 plays – 10 on the ground - to march 46 yards to increase the lead. The Gamecocks converted their third fourth down of the half when Wilds came up with a 10-yard run to the Florida 27. Wilds and Shaw continued to pound it down to the goal line before Shaw scored his second touchdown of the game on a 1-yard keeper with :31 left in the half.
After a quick stop by the Gator defense to open the second half, Florida’s offense went to work and marched 58 yards on 10 plays to set up a 24-yard field goal by Sturgis. Brantley hit Jordan Reed for a 20-yard pass, while a 17-yard run by Rainey set the Gators up at the South Carolina 25. Florida marched as close as the 5-yard line, but once again was unable to punch it in from inside the red zone.
Early in the fourth quarter the Gators took possession at the South Carolina 49-yard line after a strong defensive stand. On the first play Rainey ripped off a 47-yard run to the South Carolina 2-yard line. After stalling inside the 5-yard line on two previous trips, the Gators finally found the end zone when Brissett scrambled for a two-yard touchdown to cut the score to 14-12 with 11:23 remaining.
The Gators went for two to tie and Brissett scrambled to the right but was intercepted in the end zone.
Needing a response, the Gamecocks came back with a strong one, as Shaw hit Ace Sanders in stride for a 46-yard gain which set up a 28-yard field goal by Jay Wooten to make it a 17-12 game with 9:14 remaining.
Florida got the ball back and moved inside South Carolina territory, but a miscommunication in a hand-off between Brantley and Rainey and a sack stalled a Gator drive. South Carolina did an effective job of rolling time off the clock and the Gators got the ball back with :42 seconds and 89 yards to go. The Gators advanced to their own 43 after passes to Reed and Rainey. Brantley was sacked on the game’s final play, however, and Florida fell to South Carolina for the second straight year.
South Carolina rushed for 160 yards in the first half, Wilds with 81 yards on 17 carries and Shaw with 71 yards on 11 carries. Florida was been limited to just 84 yards of total offense in the first half, 47 rushing and 37 passing.
It was a different story in the second half as Florida gained 177 of its 261 yards after the break. Rainey finished with 17 carries for 132 yards, while Brantley hit 13-of-21 passes for 119 yards. Reed led the Gators with five receptions for 62 yards.
Florida returns to action next Saturday when Furman comes to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for a 1 p.m. kick-off.