Francisco Velez

South Carolina special teams block Florida’s chance to become bowl eligible

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Florida (5-4, 4-4 SEC) looked to have this game as close to being in the bag as either team may have been able to do on Saturday afternoon. After digging a 10-0 hole in the first quarter, Florida rallied with 17 straight points and held a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter. But the South Carolina (5-5, 3-5 SEC) special teams pulled through with two huge blocks to give the Gamecocks enough life to tie things up late and force overtime. Then, in the overtime, South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson took it himself for a four-yard touchdown run for a 23-20 victory.

Florida had its chances to put this game away in the fourth quarter despite having another sluggish afternoon on offense, but the Gators could not finish things off in the fourth quarter. Florida’s fourth quarter possessions resulted in a three-and-out, a blocked field goal and a blocked punt. The Gators drove to the South Carolina 15-yard line but ended the drive with the Gamecocks blocking a 32-yard field goal try by Francisco Velez. South Carolina took over at their 41-yard line as a result but were unable to score points off the drive. Florida’s next possession was another three-and-out, this time with a punt blocked at the Florida 38-yard line.

Following the blocked punt, Thompson went straight to the air for a 27-yard gain to Mike Davis and a few plays later Davis was in the end zone, in part because Florida had been called for a pass interference in the end zone.

Florida had to settle for a field goal on the first possession of overtime, and South Carolina opted to simply keep things on the ground with Davis. It worked effectively with four straight runs to the Florida 11-yard line. South Carolina was on the four-yard line two plays later with a first and goal, at which time Thompson took care of things himself by running into the end zone for the win.

Florida ended the day with just three of 14 third-down conversions and 278 yards of offense. Gators quarterback Treon Haris attempted just 11 passes all afternoon, completing five for 60 yards and a touchdown late in the first half. Haris also led the Gators with 111 rushing yards. South Carolina was only marginally better on offense. South Carolina converted eight of 17 third downs for first downs but managed just 301 yards of offense and went 0-for-3 on fourth down attempts.

Florida will host Eastern Kentucky, an FCS program, next weekend in Gainesville for the final home game of the season. The following week Florida will wrap up the regular season on the road against Florida State. Florida is now done with SEC play, with a conference record of 4-4 this season, highlighted by a win over Georgia. After letting this game slip away, the talks about making a coaching change from Will Muschamp could heat up again after it looked as though he would manage to silence that idea for at least one more year. It has reached a point where even a win against Florida State might not be enough.

Florida can still play in a bowl game though. If the Gators win next weekend against Eastern Kentucky (and they should, although Eastern Kentucky is 8-2 after winning today against Murray State, so who knows), Florida will be eligible for postseason play. The last thing Florida will want is to have to clinch bowl eligibility against Florida State.

South Carolina also wrapped up SEC play this afternoon. The Gamecocks ended their season with a record in SEC play of just 3-5, a far cry from preseason expectations. South Carolina did record wins against Georgia and Florida, and that is usually a very good sign but other pieces just never fell into place for the Gamecocks, starting with a week one loss at home to Texas A&M. Next week South Carolina will host South Alabama from the Sun Belt Conference for the regular season home finale. The following week South Carolina travels to Clemson for the annual rivalry game against their instate ACC rival. South Carolina must win one of the next two games left on the schedule in order to become eligible to play in a bowl game. South Carolina has played in a bowl game every season since 2008 under Steve Spurrier.