COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Florida won 11 games last season behind a pulverizing rushing attack, a suffocating defense and passing only when absolutely necessary. The formula almost worked again.
An undermanned but resilient Gators team fell to No. 11 South Carolina 19-14 on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 83,853 in a closely contested, physical game reminiscent of the last time the two teams played in Williams-Brice Stadium.
Florida dropped its fifth consecutive game — its longest such stretch since 1979. The Gators now must win their final two games — against Georgia Southern and Florida State — to avoid missing a bowl game for the first time since 1990.
“Very proud of our guys’ effort. We followed the script of what we needed to do to win the game,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “There’s a lot of negativity out there and these guys pulled together and showed you that this is something these guys are about.”
Florida led for the majority of the game until midway through the fourth quarter, when the Gamecocks scored the go-ahead field goal on a drive that started on their own 5-yard line.
Shon Carson sprinted up the gut for 58 yards on first down, quickly allowing South Carolina to escape the shadow of its own end zone.
“We got bounced out of our gap,” Muschamp said. “Just very disappointing Their guy made a play.”
Following a 34-yard circus catch by tight end Rory Anderson on third-and-9, South Carolina had the ball on Florida’s 2-yard line before its red-zone drive stalled.
Elliot Fry then drilled a 22-yard field goal attempt to take the lead. Fry was 4 of 5 on field goals.
South Carolina avenged last season’s 44-11 thrashing in Gainesville, as senior quarterback Connor Shaw — who had an inconsistent game Saturday struggling with accuracy — moved to 15-0 in his career at home.
Shaw finished the night 14 of 28 for 213 yards and one touchdown.
But it was a valiant effort by a Florida team hamstrung by injuries and an embattled coaching staff.
UF was forced to start redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, as junior Tyler Murphy was unable to go because of a shoulder injury.
Mornhinweg wasn’t asked to do much, as Florida dialed up a “wild-Gator” direct-snap offense that nearly confused South Carolina into an upset.
Freshman tailback Kelvin Taylor rushed for a career-high 96 yards — 83 yards in the first half — on 21 carries and two touchdowns that both came on direct snaps.
Florida’s offense — in a malaise during the four-game losing streak — actually jump-started the potential upset with a powerful running game reminiscent of 2012.
Despite playing with a third-string quarterback and a beleaguered offensive line down to its fourth- and-fifth-string offensive tackles, the Gators confused the Gamecocks with a creative running game full of trickery (direct snaps, jet sweeps, direct snaps), unbalanced lines and misdirection.
Florida rushed for 200 yards against the Southeastern Conference’s No. 6 rushing defense and had four runs over 20 yards — the most in a game all season.
“It’s not an excuse. It’s real,” Muschamp said. “It’s frustrating for that locker room. The hell with me. I worry about the kids. Thee kids fought their butt off. There’s a lot of negativity out there. Some of these fans need to get a grip. They really do. They can criticize me all you want. I’m great with that. They pay me enough to deal with it. But those kids don’t. They really. They fought their butts off. Nobody has ever questioned their efforts. I’m extremely proud of their fight and resolve.”