Halftime in Columbia: New helmets, and a two-touchdown deficit for Gamecocks

South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper (11) outruns Florida defensive lineman Caleb Brantley (57) in the first half Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

COLUMBIA — Another slow start, another halftime deficit for South Carolina.

One week after falling behind 17-0 at Tennessee, the Gamecocks managed little on offense in the opening two quarters Saturday against No. 11 Florida — and the result was a 14-0 Gators lead at the break before an announced crowd of 78,536 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Florida’s offense, which had been beset by issues of its own over the past two weeks, was efficient in converting third downs against a South Carolina defense which struggled to get any pressure on Gators quarterback Treon Harris. The SEC East champions went 7-of-11 on third downs in the half, and converted one fourth-and-1 on their first touchdown drive.

That came on a 3-yard scoring plunge by running back Jordan Cronkrite, capping a drive in which the Gators converted a third-and-3, and third-and-11, and third-and-8 in addition to the fourth-and-1. The big play was a 26-yard strike from Harris to freshman receiver Antonio Callaway, which got the Gators down to the USC 14.

Cronkrite cashed in again on Florida’s next drive, this time through the air. On third-and-11 after Florida had been set back by an alignment penalty and USC’s first sack of the half, Harris dashed out of the pocket under pressure and threw downfield for Cronkrite. Gamecocks cornerback Chris Lammons went for the ball, but bounced off the running back, who hauled in the pass and coasted into the end zone.

The Gators dominated the stat sheet, generating 200 yards of offense in the first half compared to South Carolina’s 53. The Gamecocks managed just three first downs, while Florida had 11.

Florida seemed on the brink of enlarging the lead after USC quarterback Perry Orth was intercepted at the 18. But Gamecocks nickel back T.J. Gurley picked off Harris on third-and-goal from the 5, keeping the deficit at two touchdowns at the break.

The Gamecocks came out for the game wearing new alternate helmets, marking the first time since 1974 they’ve diverted from the gamecock in the block C on their headgear. The new helmets were white and emblazoned with a gamecock’s tail feathers in garnet.

South Carolina needs to win each of its final three games — a stretch which also includes home contests against The Citadel and No. 1 Clemson — to avoid its first losing season since 2003.

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