The Gators couldn’t give themselves a chance.
Down by eight with 3:28 left at South Carolina, Florida started the game’s defining drive inside its own 20. Its first play resulted in an intentional grounding penalty, and it didn’t get better. It ended when a pass over the middle from quarterback Feleipe Franks was intercepted with 1:06 remaining, sending the white towels dotting the garnett sea at Williams-Brice Stadium into a frenzy.
That was the final blow to depleted and dilapidated Florida (3-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference), which dropped its fifth straight on Saturday, 28-20, this time to the Gamecocks (7-3, 5-3 SEC) in a contest where South Carolina coach Will Muschamp’s team did everything possible to help Florida — his former team — leave Columbia with a win.
“We had opportunities,” UF coach Randy Shannon said. “Couple turnovers on defense that we couldn’t capitalize with on offense.”
USC quarterback Jake Bentley threw three interceptions to keep the Gators around. South Carolina also muffed a punt near its own 40 in the first quarter. Those miscues kept the game from getting too lopsided, but the Gators only managed to turn those turnovers into a field goal and two punts.
South Carolina also missed a field goal to give the Gators the ball late in the fourth quarter. Franks immediately heaved a 63-yard prayer to wide-open tight end Moral Stephens. That set up a Mark Thompson touchdown run that made the game interesting. But that was as interesting as it got, and Muschamp’s Gamecocks held on for the win.
“If we just capitalized on those little things,” linebacker David Reese said, “I feel like we’d come out with a victory today… They had luck on their side.”
The loss came with additional costs. Florida quarterback Malik Zaire left the game with a leg injury in the second quarter when he fell to the ground untouched. He never returned, finishing with 49 yards on 7-of-14 passing, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Franks replaced him but wasn’t much more effective at leading the offense. He finished with 156 yards on 8-of-20 passing. Mark Thompson led the rushing attack with 35 yards and the one touchdown. The bigger problem was defense.
The Gamecocks sliced the Gators on runs up the middle, deep passes, lucky bounces and incredible catches. When they were done, they’d amassed 469 yards — the most UF has allowed this season — to Florida’s 285.
“We’ve got some bad stuff on the team, I guess,” defensive tackle Taven Bryan said. “We’ve been purging it out. We’ve been getting better at it… Taking the baby steps, and I promise you guys we’ll play better the next game.”
Florida has two games left in its regular season, with UAB next week and Florida State the week after. A bowl game is now likely out of reach.
“I’m just worried about sending these seniors out the right way,” Franks said. “That’s what I think we’re playing for these last two games.”