SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Raised SEC East bar smacks No. 9 South Carolina
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Outfoxed and outplayed, a bunch of talented but tired South Carolina pass rushers gasped and chased Florida tight end Jordan Reed for 39 yards on Saturday.
Shadows were cast over the field at The Swamp, and over the Gamecocks’ SEC championship hopes. Reed escaped for a big gain on a screen pass during a late third-quarter touchdown drive that put the game away.
No. 3 Florida during its 44-11 rout of No. 9 South Carolina adjusted to early dominance by Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Gamecocks’ defense.
“A lot of mistakes out there on that (Reed play),” Clowney said. “We have to get it back together next week.”
The bigger adjustment was Florida’s answer to the Gamecocks’ streak of 12 straight wins against SEC East opponents that dated to a 2010 upset loss at Kentucky.
The steady progress within Steve Spurrier’s program raised the SEC East bar, but Florida stepped up before a crowd of 90,833 and clobbered the Gamecocks with that bar.
The SEC East race is over for South Carolina, back to a matter for Florida and Georgia to settle.
Hopefully, the Gamecocks can get their title pursuit act back together.
Two weeks ago, South Carolina seemed in control after a 35-7 rout of Georgia.
“Two weeks ago,” Spurrier said, “was two weeks ago.”
Two years ago, Spurrier was carried off the field at Florida after South Carolina clinched its first SEC East title with a 36-14 defeat of Urban Meyer’s Gators. The Gamecocks followed last season with a school-record 11 wins, and at 6-2 still can match that total this season.
A Gotye zing
But Florida, under coach Will Muschamp, is back. The former Georgia defensive back had his Gators aiming for next week’s Jacksonville clash with his alma mater in the minutes following Saturday’s win.
“We are very hard self-evaluators and, I said it from the beginning, we watch film and say what we need to do to get better,” Muschamp explained.
Gators fans see reminders of Spurrier all over this orange and blue place. Florida, with a statue outside its stadium and signage inside, celebrates the Heisman Trophy won as a Florida player and the 1996 national championship won as a coach.
The Florida band got into the act late in the game. Someone cued up Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” but Spurrier probably didn’t notice.
Once the upstarts, the Gamecocks — 3-point underdogs or not — were the hunted in Gainesville.
“You have to give South Carolina’s defense a lot of credit,” Muschamp said. “(Defensive coordinator) Lorenzo Ward and his staff did an outstanding job against us.”
Ward watched his defense hold Florida to 29 yards in the first half.
Three of Florida’s touchdown drives totaled 32 yards after Gamecock fumbles.
“Life is not fair,” Ward said.
But Florida and its new offensive coordinator, former Boise State staffer Brent Pease, made some critical changes at halftime. The Gators mixed screens and vintage Boise State misdirection to gain 133 yards in the third quarter (the bulk of their 183 total for the game).
“He’s definitely going to get us in the right play call and in the right situations, and we’re going to make adjustments just like the defense is going to make adjustments,” Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said.
Fickle, this SEC East.
“Confidence is a big thing,” said Dylan Thompson, who replaced Connor Shaw at quarterback. “When we have it, we’re really good and when we don’t, we’re not very good.”
As the Gamecocks mowed through the SEC East these last two-plus seasons, some people — including Spurrier, at times — have pointed out that Tennessee was struggling and Florida was rebuilding.
No need for sympathy for the current Gators.
Now it’s up to the Gamecocks to adjust to an improved SEC East of their own creation.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter/ @sapakoff.