Florida's 19-14 loss to South Carolina wasn't unexpected, and it wasn't shocking. But the manner in which it happened made it as painful as any loss in a season chockablock with them.
For the first time in over a month, the Florida Gators actually played like they cared in the first half. It was a long awaited sight to behold. The Gators stormed out of the gate in droves and relied largely on Kelvin Taylor and his two early touchdowns. Taylor and the Gators led the South Carolina Gamecocks 14-3 at the half after looking lost on offense for the better part of the last three, four or five games.
Midway through the third quarter Taylor and the rest of the Gators rushing attack were approaching 200 yards rushing on 24 carries. But with that, quarterback Skyler Mornhingweg had attempted three passes. His first in-completion came with just under nine minutes remaining in the third quarter but it was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty.
Mornhingweg, who was making his first career start and who was taking his first career snaps looked good. He isn't going to ever set the world on fire as a passer I don't think, but in the first half he didn't make any mistakes as the Gators took the ball out of his hands early and often.
The Gators' offense as a whole used a lot of direct snaps to the running backs to help keep the Gamecock defense off of Mornhingweg. Trey Burton was also used plenty in the wildcat formation but that's nothing new. Both of those devices were effective early as Brent Pease called the game of his Gators career.
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.
There was a question as to whether or not the Gamecocks deserved a touchdown on the drive, but after a video review it was confirmed, correctly in my opinion, that the receiver never had full possession of the ball before going out of bounds.
The Gamecocks would add on another field to goal to extend their lead to 19-14 with a few minutes left to play. The Gators' last rally attempt fell short when Mornhingweg's pass attempt was intercepted. Mornhingweg, in an attempt to make a play instead of just throwing the ball out of bounds threw into coverage and into the waiting arms of a defensive back.
Despite playing with heart and a sense of urgency that has been missing for about a month, the Gators have yet to put together a complete game during their five game losing streak.
Mornhingweg finished the game 10-of-13 passing for 107 yards and the aforementioned interception. Taylor, who led the Gators to their lead in the first half was held to roughly five yards rushing in the second half as he finished with just 96 yards on the ground. He account for both of the Gators' touchdowns though, so the future looks very bright in that regard.
But with for a team that missing so much, including the leaders on offense and defense, this season has become a long and challenging ones for the remaining players and fans alike.