Saturday October 20, 2012Off-Season Emphasis on Takeaways Leading to Wins Now
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Loucheiz Purifoy saw a wide-open, straight line to the quarterback and, frankly, couldn’t believe it.
Not on the first play of the game.
“I thought they were going to bring the [running] back over to help,” Purifoy said. “But they didn’t.”
Like a sprinter out of the blocks, the sophomore cornerback blitzed from the left side, smothering South Carolina quarterback Conner Shaw and spilling the ball to the Field Field turf barely 10 seconds into Saturday’s game.
Gators defensive end Lerentee McCray recovered at the Gamecocks 1, UF’s offense scored three plays later and the tone was set for what soon morphed into a lopsided 44-11 defeat of the ninth-ranked Gamecocks.
“Sack, fumble, turnover, our ball on the 1 -- and on the first play of the game,” gushed sophomore Jaylen Watkins. “What more can you ask for?”
Since the end of last season kicked off the focus to this season, Florida coach Will Muschamp has asked his defense for more turnovers.
He hasn't stopped asking.
“Since January, man, since right after the bowl game,” senior safety Josh Evans said. “Every day, we talk about turnovers.”
Against the Gamecocks, the Gators forced four, including three in the first half that set up short-field touchdowns for quarterback Jeff Driskel and friends. The Gatros also protected the ball flawlessly, pushing their season’s takeaway-giveaway margin to plus-11.
Context: UF was minus-12 in turnover ratio last season, which ranked last in the Southeastern Conference.
“Every meeting we spend a lot of time just talking about stripping the ball off people. That's constantly pounded into their head, especially after last season,” Muschamp said after watching him team move to 7-0, including 6-0 and in control of its destiny in the SEC East Division heading toward next week’s game against rival Georgia. “We need to be good in turnover margin. We're not a good enough team to go out and turn the ball over and be careless with the ball and not gain some positive field position for our football team.”
Considering the Gators started drives on the Gamecocks’ 1, 29 and 1 again ... yeah ... that qualifies for positive field position.
Purifoy got things started with the corner blitz, something Muschamp suggested to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as a first-play tactic Friday night at the team hotel.
“And he doesn’t have to be talked into that,” Muschamp said of Quinn, who loves to bring pressure.
That first takeaway led to a 3-yard touchdown pass from Driskel to tight end Jordan Reed to put the Gamecocks in a 7-0 less than a minute into the game.
“They wanted a fist fight, they wanted a physical game,” Purifoy said. “We were gonna give it to them.”
In the second quarter, junior Trey Burton swiped the ball from USC punt returner Ace Sanders and got the recovery, too. That one led to a Driskel-to-Quinton Dunbar touchdown pass of 13 yards and gave the Gators a 14-3 lead with three minutes to go in the first half.
They weren't done.
On the ensuing kickoff, Solomon Patton lassoed Damiere Byrd, spinning the ball free, with Chris Johnson scooping up it up and returning the play just shy of the goal line.
“We talked about it all week; about being good in coverage because they have such great returners,” special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “You saw it tonight. Our guys were running down there like their hair was on fire.”
The inferno spread through their teammates.
And again it was Driskel capitalizing, again to Reed, making it 21-6 special teams turnover blitz at intermission.
Because that opening-play turnover negated South Carolina’s possession to start the game, the Gators made the Gamecocks pay for it again to open the second half, using a 39-yard return from Andre Debose to jumpstart a 10-play, 51-yard touchdown drive, capped by 6-yard touchdown run by Omarius Hines.
Give Purifoy an indirect assist for that one, too. He’s the one who got his team going, along with a crowd that hadn’t cheered like it did Saturday in years.
It started early. Almost immediately.
"There's no better feeling than hearing that,” Purifoy said.
With the possible exception of hearing it at the end.
They did that, too.