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Florida vs. South Carolina: Special teams, philosophy doom Will Muschamp's Gators

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We all just wanted him to be good. But Will Muschamp's approach, and key special teams errors, cost Florida a win over South Carolina.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the final must-win game of the Will Muschamp Era, Florida embarrassingly gave away a fourth quarter lead and out South Carolina-ed South Carolina for the Gators' third home loss of the season.

In this game, we learned a few things. First, Will Muschamp will not be coaching the Gators next season. Second, playing to not score as many points as possible is really dumb.

Third, you can fumble a ball forward and still score a touchdown. Who knew on that one!

But what else did we learn? What does the film tell us? The game had a very boring and slow pace, with the score sitting at 17-10 Florida late in the fourth quarter, and we'll start there so as not to put everyone to sleep. Up to that point, you know what happened: Florida ran the ball a lot, played a very conservative ball game and South Carolina wasn't able to turn offense into points after the first quarter.

Let's begin and analyze what people want to know: How the hell did Florida give that game away? We start at 6:01 left in the fourth quarter. Florida has the ball at Carolina's 19. It's first and 10. The world is our oyster.

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South Carolina stacks the box. Why? Because Florida had only attempted one pass in the fourth quarter (incomplete, by the way). Despite that, Treon Harris rushes for a touchdown on a good-looking QB draw.

But Quinton Dunbar's holding penalty brings that back, so here we go again.

On the next play, announcer Dave Neal says "You've gotta think on this play Harris is going to take the snap, take one step like he's running it, then sling it. It's his for the taking with as many counter (runs) as he's ran today." But did Florida do that? Florida did not, even with very favorable soft coverage on Robinson on the far side.

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All the room in the world, but the pass wasn't there.

Now, I'll stop here and talk a bit. Florida was up 17-10 with the time winding down. A field goal basically puts the game out of reach and Florida did just score off a run play that was called back. Running the ball is not indefensible here. With that said, would you have passed the ball at all on this drive?

Some would say this offense isn't built for that. Others think the nature of this offense is stupid — and as Jeremy Foley demonstrated with his decision to end the Muschamp era, and comments about needing "a track record of offensive success," Florida's aware of those criticisms.

But the offensive style is one thing; the macro-level philosophical decision we believe Muschamp made, in never trying to run up the score, and simply attempting to win by whatever may be considered enough, is what killed Florida on Saturday, and what rankles Gators most.

At this juncture in the game, South Carolina had not scored since the first quarter. Florida's defense was shutting the Gamecocks down and forcing mistakes. I understand the thought of not letting your young quarterback lose you the game, but Harris hadn't shown such erratic traits yet, and, even if he did, Florida's defense was covering for them. The purpose of offense in football is to score points, the most points possible on that series.

After four years, it doesn't feel like Muschamp ever got that.

So, yeah, Florida sputtered to finish this drive, and yeah, Frankie Velez came out to seal the game, and ... well, yeah, this happened.

But Florida's defense held on a fourth down to give the ball back to the offense with yet another chance to close this game out, this time with just 2:22 left to play and just one timeout for Carolina.

First play? Power run — a good play, gaining five yards.

Second play? Power run — the right call, but good for just one yard. After the play, Carolina uses its final timeout.

Third play? Quarterback counter off a play action sweep — a play run roughly 5,000 times this game, and one that goes for a loss of two yards.

Fourth play? Obvious punt. But, wait ... oh, God no ... it's blocked.

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Hey, Mike. Hey, Clay.

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Hey, Mike. Hey, Clay.

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Hey, Mike. Hey, Clay.

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THAT'S YOUR GUY. RIGHT THERE.

The blocking scheme on that punt was atrocious, even beyond Burton's missed assignment — even if his initial assignment was the outside, he has eyes. It was a broken play. And a terrible one.

So South Carolina scores. To overtime we go! And looky here, Florida received the ball first!

First play? Quarterback counter. Worked well, with Harris bouncing to the outside, and getting a gain of eight.

Second play? Quarterback counter — but for no gain.

Third play? Wide receiver screen. Against press coverage. For no gain.

You know the rest.

Florida's identity is as a power running team. Or, well: When Florida wins, it's an identity. When the Gators lose, it's a prehistoric style of offense that can't win you more than seven or eight games.

Treon Harris had 11 total passing attempts against South Carolina. He also had 20 carries, along with 28 handoffs. This was an interesting — and by interesting, I mean "as conservative as you can make a spread offense" — strategy from Kurt Roper, considering that Florida didn't take the lead until the very end of the third quarter.

Ultimately, what did Florida in were the two blocked kicks. You'd figure after a crucial blocked field goal that every special teams play from then on out would be zipped tight, but no, another blocked kick was their downfall. Players can love Muschamp all they want, but if that's how they play for them, then it's their fault he's gone, just as much as they might think it's ours for calling for his head all year.

This game wasn't a fun watch; these losses never are (especially since Muschamp is such an easy guy to root for as a person). Gators fans were once again subject to an offense that wouldn't get out of its own way, in a program that made its destiny off electrifying plays.

This Florida era will soon turn the page, and with it, I hope the next platoon of coaches will realize the point of offense has nothing to do with defense. The point of offense is to score, and on every play, an offense should be working toward that goal. If you score on 100 percent of your possessions, you'll probably win the game. Muschamp, it seems, was always worried about how much time they could control while they scored, and forgot that last part far too often.

But two weeks remain in this era. We'll see if they open up the spread. As Muschamp himself has said, there's the talent here to do it.

I hope they do.