Buried and left for dead. That was Florida late in the third quarter Saturday afternoon against USC in The Swamp. The Gamecocks owned a 31-14 lead and appeared on their way to a bowl clinching sixth win and perhaps a spot in Jacksonville for the Taxslayer Bowl. That’s when the Gamecocks let the Gators off the hook in a crushing 35-31 defeat.
The Gamecocks dominated the Gators for 40 minutes and led by 17 points after Rico Dowdle ran in from four yards out. But their offense grew conservative and their defense suddenly lost its aggressiveness.
The Gators put together long touchdown drives on each of their last three possessions while the Gamecocks managed just 29 yards over their last three.
Florida took its only lead on a fourth down, one yard quarterback sneak by Feleipe Franks with 4:09 to play. Any hopes of a game saving drive ended for the Gamecocks three plays in when quarterback Jake Bentley thru behind Bryan Edwards and was intercepted at his own 44. The Gators were able to run out the clock from there.
Florida’s running game was a concern going in and it proved lethal. The Gators rushed for a season high 367 yards with Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine each going over 100 yards.
The Gamecocks played some of their best offense of the season in the first quarter with Bentley tossing a pair of touchdown passes to his tight ends Jacob August and Kyle Markway. The Gamecocks totaled 167 yards in the quarter and averaged 8.8 yards per play.
The Gators tied the game at 14 with a pair of second quarter touchdowns before Bentley scored on a one yard run with 4:21 left for a 21-14 Gamecock lead at the half.
A Parker White field goal extended the lead to 10 in the third quarter. The Gamecocks then forced a Florida punt and Bentley hit Deebo Samuel for 89 yards on a slant, the longest play of the season. That set up Dowdle’s touchdown run and all looked chummy in Gamecock land.
Then came the rest of the game.
The Gators totaled 230 yards on those last three possessions that created the 21-point rally. 152 of those yards came on the ground. The Gators used speed and strength to run thru the Gamecock defense. Unofficially, they broke 23 tackles in the game.
Florida finished with 528 total yards to 386 for the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks threw 25 passes for 239 yards thru three quarters. In the fourth, trying to protect their lead, the Gamecocks ran the ball seven times and attempted three passes with the last pass intercepted to kill their hopes.
Bentley finished 18-28 for 239 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. AJ Turner led the ground game with 81 yards. On defense, linebacker TJ Brunson had a huge game with 16 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and a fumble recovery.
USC HC Will Muschamp following the loss to Florida
The loss drops USC to 5-4 overall and a final SEC record of 4-4, good for a fourth place finish in the SEC East. The Gamecocks will play UT-Chattanooga next Saturday night in Columbia.