The Florida Gators held a 24-14 halftime lead and increased it to a 38-14 advantage before the third quarter was out, never letting that advantage erode to fewer than 14 points for the rest of their 38-24 win over South Carolina on Saturday.
So why is it that Florida fans are going to focus on a defense that bent and bent but never truly broke after going to 2-0 in a pandemic-shadowed season?
It could be because Todd Grantham’s charges looked for a second week like a younger, dumber version of the Gators than many fans were expecting this year. Florida missed tackles and blew assignments on a game-opening touchdown drive that saw the Gamecocks control the clock and score with relative ease.It could be because South Carolina kept the ball for almost the entirety of the fourth quarter — just under 12 minutes of the period’s 15 minutes of game clock saw the Gamecocks on offense — and made a quixotic drive toward a one-possession game for more than seven minutes late, only failing because of drops that were a constant issue.
It could be because the last memory of Florida’s offense on this day was not Kadarius Toney (82 yards on eight touches, one touchdown) taking a crosser from Kyle Trask (268 passing yards, four TDs) and squirting between five defenders for a 57-yard catch-and-run or Trask standing tall and throwing a slant to Kyle Pitts (four catches, 57 yards, two TDs) over a leaping defender for their sixth connection for six points on the season, but instead Trask throwing a duck that was intercepted to end a series on which he had previously thrown two dangerous balls into tight coverage. By the time the game hit triple zeroes, the Gators’ attack — which scored 35-plus points for the fourth straight game — had been without a meaningful good play for more than an hour of real time.
Mostly, I think it’s because Florida is now affirmatively being evaluated as a potential national championship-winning team and by impossibly tough invented criteria for such — and because not fully putting away a Will Muschamp-coached team that spent much of the day aiming armaments at its own feet feels beneath this outfit, at least for now.
Whether that’s actually true or not obviously remains to be seen, though Florida did lead by double digits for the entire second half for a second straight week — despite now being outscored by a 21-10 aggregate in fourth quarters. The Gators looked all but unstoppable on offense again, with only a Trask fumble on an ill-advised option keeper preventing them from scoring points on their first seven drives.
And even running an even 30 more plays couldn’t get South Carolina a yardage advantage on Florida, which tallied 348 yards to the Gamecocks’ 329. What seemed like double-digit drops and some fine tackling in the open field — notably by Shawn Davis, excellent in his first full game of the season — held Collin Hill to a measly 4.5 yards per pass attempt, and while Kevin Harris ran for 100 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, he never broke a run longer than 11 yards.
In truth, a defense that was bombarded by Ole Miss a week ago cleaned up that issue rather admirably, giving up no plays of longer than 22 yards a week after conceding seven of 30 or more yards to the Rebels. And while Florida gave up 11 third- or fourth-down conversions, that was on a total of 23 tries — more akin to getting stabbed by a spork than filleted.
Through two games, Florida appears to have an offense with all the answers and a defense with question marks. In a year in which everything is unusual, this isn’t far at all from par for everyone’s course. And it won’t be a departure for Gators fans to fret about a potentially great team, either.
But the Gators are still very much in the fairway after their opening drive.