University of Florida

Florida Gators defeat South Carolina, sweep SEC East

Florida quarterback Treon Harris (3) throws a pass as South Carolina defensive end Marquavius Lewis (8) pressures during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Columbia, S.C.
Florida quarterback Treon Harris (3) throws a pass as South Carolina defensive end Marquavius Lewis (8) pressures during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. AP

Even Picasso didn’t paint a masterpiece every time.

For the second week in a row, No. 11 Florida nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. But the Gators held on to knock off South Carolina 24-14 at Williams-Brice Stadium, and first-year UF coach Jim McElwain could only chuckle and heap praise on his team’s resiliency.

“The art of winning is hard, guys,” McElwain said. “It’s hard. … Figuring out how to win, and that’s what I really like about our guys. There’s never really any panic. They play in the moment, they plan in the now and they’ve figured out a way to sweep the [SEC] East. It ain’t a bad gig, man.

“We got a bunch of winners.”

What a difference a year — and a coaching change — makes. Last season, UF did collapse late against South Carolina, and Will Muschamp was fired as coach the next day.

On Saturday, Florida finished and its playoff hopes remained alive.

After controlling the game for nearly 3 1/2 quarters, the Gators (9-1, 7-1 SEC) surrendered 14 unanswered points. They faced a third-and-8 at their own 46-yard line and the Gamecocks’ dormant crowd suddenly awoke.

Then McElwain & Co. dialed up a Taylor-made play, and the game was essentially over.

Junior running back Kelvin Taylor gashed the Gamecocks (3-7, 1-7) for 53 yards up the middle, hammering home the knockout blow with a 1-yard touchdown on the next play.

“There’s something beautiful when all 11 guys do their job,” McElwain said.

“You just do your job, you go hit your head on the goalpost — and the only thing that didn’t happen was he didn’t go hit his head on the goalpost and tripped at the 1.”

Said center Cam Dilliard, who delivered a key block: “Coach Mac preached all week about straining to finish. We showed we could finish. … That’s what winners do. They pay attention to the little details.”

Taylor rushed for 105 yards on 21 carries, but Florida’s hot-and-cold offense didn’t exactly find its remedy against a porous South Carolina defense.

The Gators marched down the field to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, capping an 87-yard drive with a 3-yard dash by freshman tailback Jordan Cronkrite.

It wasn’t so easy the rest of the day. Cronkrite, the former Miami Westminster Christian standout, hauled in a ridiculous 41-yard touchdown later in the half. But otherwise Florida’s attack was a muddled mess.

While the Gators chewed up the clock, quarterback Treon Harris again struggled with consistency, finishing 19 of 33 for 256 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown. Harris threw a brutal pick in the red zone late in the first half and was sacked three times.

“Let’s face it, Treon got away with one down there on that scramble. [Jordan] just went back and said, ‘I want the ball,’ ” McElwain said.

Meanwhile, the Gators’ swarming defense was on track to pitch a shutout before South Carolina unleashed some trickeration.

The Gators held the Gamecocks to just 44 yards through three quarters, but USC’s Pharoh Cooper found quarterback Perry Orth for 18 yards on a double-pass touchdown, jumpstarting the fourth-quarter rally.

On the next drive, the ‘Cocks flipped the connection and Orth hooked up with Cooper for a 38-yard score.

Florida’s defense still submitted an impressive performance, though, holding USC to just 21 yards rushing and forcing two turnovers. The Gators also recorded four sacks and seven tackles for loss.

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