Florida controlled much of the game Saturday afternoon at the Swamp, but needed to hold off a valiant comeback by the Gamecocks in the last three minutes. Were it not for three first half turnovers and a questionable holding call on an Antonio Callaway punt return for a touchdown, Jim McElwain’s team likely would have led 35-0 at the half. Nonetheless, Florida got the better of their former head coach Will Muschamp in his return to Gainesville in the form of a 20-7 victory.
Here are three things we learned:
Florida is a one win away from an East title
Unlike the rest of the SEC East, Florida’s path has been fairly straightforward since Tennessee’s third conference loss: Win out and you’re going to Atlanta. Last week’s loss at Arkansas closed the one-game cushion the Gators had, but still, two wins and Atlanta was the destination. Next week’s trip to Baton Rouge presents a challenge that, prior to Hurricane Matthew, was not expected to be in front of Florida this month. The scheduling debacle that occurred once the hurricane had its eyes set on Gainesville is one that we don’t need to relive but surely will if the Tigers are able to upend Florida’s hopes at a repeat SEC East crown. Either way, it’s simple for the Gators: Win and you’re in.
It should also be noted that the injuries have begun to pile up for the Gators. Florida was without linebackers Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis, along with center Cameron Dillard. Well, you can add safety Marcus Maye and defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. to the growing list. The two went down with an apparent shoulder and right leg injury, respectively. Offensive tackle David Sharpe also was limped off of the field with an injury in the first half.
Backup quarterback Austin Appleby played well in place of the injured Luke Del Rio, going 17-of-21 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and an interception with one fumble as well. Appleby will absolutely need to replicate the same type of numbers next weekend in Death Valley and would like to see running back Jordan Scarlett do the same after rushing for 134 yards on 20 carries.
South Carolina still has a long way to go
You had to have known that it would be a rough day for true freshman Jake Bentley in his first career road start. There are very few places in college football that you would rather not make your first career road start than at the Swamp. Bentley struggled for much of the afternoon going 18-for-32 for 213 yards and an interception—most of those yards coming in the fourth quarter. His receivers failed him at times, with Hayden Hurst and Bryan Edwards both dropping balls on key third down opportunities in the first half.
The loss will be a set back for Muschamp’s program today, but the future is still bright. Bentley will only learn from his experience in Gainesville—and likely the one at Clemson—and matriculate into the quarterback that the program has hoped for since Connor Shaw’s departure. The health of Rico Dowdle, who left with an apparent right leg injury, will be of concern for the rest of the season, but he alongside A.J. Turner provide a promising change of pace combination in the backfield.
Barring a repeat of history, i.e. a loss to an FCS school, next week, the Gamecocks will be bowl-eligible and with a young team will benefit from the extra practices leading up to wherever they are headed to.
The six-way tie dream is dead
It was a dream, a beautiful dream, but now it’s dead. With South Carolina’s inability to win this afternoon, the greatest dream ever imagined in the SEC died. A six-way East division tie will not come to fruition this year, but it was fun while it lasted and the East is still compiled of awful teams.