Florida traveled to Columbia on Saturday night looking to snap its four-game losing streak and spoil South Carolina's hopes of winning the SEC East in the process. Not many gave the injury-riddled Gators much of a chance to compete with the Gamecocks, but Florida came to play and gave one of its better halves of the 2013 season before fading in the second half.
South Carolina fell behind early and went into halftime down 14-6. Garnet And Black Attack explained why the Gamecocks struggled to keep pace with Florida at the start of the game:
The two stories of this game were our success in adjusting to Florida's offense in the second half and Connor Shaw's uneven play. With their third-team QB getting the start, Florida had no interest in trying to move the ball vertically through the air and ran a lot of plays out of the wildcat. We struggled against their approach early in the game, but in the second half, Lorenzo Ward schemed against the run more aggressively, and we were largely able to shut down the Florida offense.
Even with Florida moving the ball early on, the Gamecocks had their chances to race out to a lead, but Shaw continuously failed to deliver the ball to open receivers. Shaw seemed to be seeing the field better than he did against Mississippi St., but he consistently overthrew receivers down field. He did enough to help us get the win, though. He got some help from his receivers, particularly on a spectacular fourth-quarter catch by TE Rory Anderson.
Alligator Army explained why things began to unravel for the Gators:
Around the middle of the third quarter though things began to change. The Gamecocks began stopping the run with effectiveness and the Gators offense was forced to throw the ball and that's never easy with this group. The third quarter came to end with the Gators leading 14-13 despite watching Austin Hardin miss yet another field goal. And we're not even going to talk about the field position the Gators were given a few times but failed to make anything out of it.
For their part the Gators' defense held their own despite Connor Shaw overthrowing everything in sight. A huge fourth down stop a few minutes into the fourth quarter with the Gators clinging to a 1-point lead was huger than huge.
However, the Gators were ultimately doomed by conservative play calling and a big run play right up the middle about halfway through the fourth quarter. The defense finally broke and it happened at the worst possible time. The Gators' defense did hold at the end of that drive and the Gamecocks settled for a field goal.
South Carolina shut out Florida in the second half and steadily chipped away at the Gators' lead with a Connor Shaw touchdown pass and five Elliott Fry field goals. Even after Florida blew its eight-point lead and watched its deficit steadily grow to five, the Gators still had a chance for a game-winning touchdown drive and even crossed midfield on Skyler Mornhinweg's 7-yard pass to Quinton Dunbar.
Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease had done everything he could to protect Mornhinweg up to this point in the game, and he largely planned around forcing his freshman signal-caller to make plays or put the ball in danger. However, needing a heroic touchdown drive on the Gators' last chance to win the game, conservatism was no longer a luxury that could be afforded, and South Carolina's opportunistic defense took advantage. Jimmy Legree picked off Mornhinweg's first pass attempt from Carolina territory and the Gamecocks were able to run out the clock.
With the win, South Carolina finishes SEC play with a 6-2 record and can only sit and watch, needing Missouri to drop either of its final two games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
Florida's loss means that the Gators will need to beat both Georgia Southern and No. 2 Florida State in order to become bowl eligible. While Florida should be capable of dispatching the FCS Eagles with little difficulty, knocking off the Seminoles will be quite a challenge.