No. 22 Florida Gators Defeat South Carolina Gamecocks 20-7, Sit Atop SEC East Standings
By Florida Gators // November 12, 2016
ABOVE VIDEO: Jim McElwain addresses the media following Florida’s 20-7 win over South Carolina.
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA (FLORIDA GATORS) – All the “Will Muschamp, Will Muschamp, Will Muschamp” talk turned into “SEC East, SEC East, SEC East” talk. The former was a distraction the Florida Gators refused to fall into. The latter was all the mattered, the home team’s lone focus, and it played that way.
Austin Appleby threw a pair of touchdown passes and Eddy Pinerio booted a couple field goals Saturday, and that was enough for No. 22 Florida to ring up a 20-7 win over their former coach and South Carolina in the Gators’ last home game on Senior Day at the “Swamp.”
By finishing unbeaten Spurrier/Florida Field, UF (7-2, 5-2) remained a game up on Tennessee in the race for a second straight Southeastern Conference East Division crown.
“The team had a decision to make early in the week whether we were going to buy-in to it, or we were going to block it all out and focus on us and go out and have a great week of practice and bring great energy and play the Gator way,” Appleby said of Muschamp’s return to the place and team he led from 2011-14.
“I’m proud of the way we played. We left a lot out there and still with that, it was a great team win.”
Appleby, the fifth-year graduate transfer from Purdue, made his first start since Oct. 1 at Vanderbilt. He completed 17-of-21 attempts for 201 yards and touchdowns of six yards to tight end C’yontai Lewis and 18 yards to senior wide receiver Ahmad Fullwood, both coming in the first half.
ABOVE VIDEO: 16 members of the Florida football team were honored for Senior Day before Florida faced South Carolina!
Both of Pinerio’s field goals came in the second half, with the Gamecocks (5-5, 3-5) averting a shutout with a 1-yard scoring run from David Williams with just under seven minutes left in the game.
UF sophomore tailback Jordan Scarlett rushed 20 times for a career-high 134 yards to help keep an offense that was stifled in last week’s 31-10 loss at Arkansas on the field. The final margin of victory very well could have been bigger, but the Gators undermined themselves on offense with three turnovers (two by Appleby) and 10 penalties for 80 yards.
True freshman quarterback Jake Bentley had guided South Carolina to three straight wins and on the cusp of bowl eligibility since being installed as the starter, but he found the going difficult against the league’s No. 2 defense. Bentley was 18-for-33 for 213 yards, no touchdowns and threw his first interception of the season.
The Gamecocks managed just 256 yards of offense. Of their first 10 possessions, seven ended in punts, two in turnovers and the other when the first-half clock ran out.
Imagine what the UF defense could have done if its pair of star linebackers, senior Jarrad Davis (ankle) and junior Alex Anzalone (broken arm), plus defensive end Cece Jefferson (ankle), had been available. The Gators also lost senior safety Marcus Maye in the first half to a shoulder injury.
That’s a lot of senior inspiration on the sidelines on Senior Day.
“You’ve got guys dropping left and right and new guys going in there,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “I think we sold some extra programs because (fans) didn’t know the numbers that were in there. Our new athletic director will be excited about that. It’ll help the budget.”
With UF starter Luke Del Rio both injured and ineffective last week, UF turned back to Appleby, who started two games earlier this season while Del Rio dealt with a knee injury. On his first series back in control — the first of the game for the home team — Appleby drove the Gators 56 yards in four plays, with the big play his 33-yard dash on a zone read. On the next play, he hit Lewis in the right flat and the sophomore dragged a couple Gamecocks into the end zone for the score.
UF had two chances to increase its touchdown lead, but running back Mark Thompson fumbled inside the South Carolina 20 on the Gators’ second possession, then Appleby fumbled the center-snap exchange when the Gators had a first-and-goal on the Gamecocks’ 5 yard line.
Florida didn’t wiff on its next chance.
UF went 76 yards in just four plays, as Scarlett had a 32-yard run and Appleby fired a 24-yard completion to receiver Brandon Powell to advance the Gators to the Carolina 18. On the next play, Appleby hit Fulwood, the senior with just five receptions this season, for the touchdown and 14-0 lead at 9:37 of the second period.
Late in the half, Antonio Callaway returned a punt for an apparent 75-yard touchdown, but the play was reduced to a 39-yard return when RJ Raymond was called for a hold away from the play. Still, UF had a first down at South Carolina’s 47, but Appleby’s pass the next play was tipped and intercepted by T.J. Holloman with 30 seconds left in the half.
“We could have had 40 points out there if we played the way we are capable of,” Appleby said. “We will get it fixed.”
Pineiro added his first field goal after the Gators had a promising drive — to the USC 36 — go backward on penalties. Enter Pineiro, who equaled his career-best kick (54 yards) to make him 3-for-3 on kicks from 50 yards and beyond his rookie collegiate season.
He got the second when Callaway, wide open, dropped a third-down pass that easily would have been a first down (maybe a touchdown). Pineiro came on and made good on a 36-yard kick with 52 seconds left in the third quarter to push the lead to 20-0.
The Gamecocks got on the board with 6:53 left in the game when Williams plowed in for his 1-yard score to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive when the visitors benefited from a pass interference call and also converted a 4th-and-6 to help Muschamp avert a shutout in his homecoming of sorts.
“It’s about the people,” he said. “It’s not about the logo. It’s not about the buildings. It’s relationships you build with people over a period of time,” said Muschamp, who went 28-21 in his four seasons with the Gators. “A lot of people that still work here at Florida that I’m very close with and always will be. As we move forward there will be less players involved, which is probably the better part for me because that’s what I really care about.”