It was a real struggle, but South Carolina (8-2, 6-2 SEC) managed to find their way to a home victory over Florida (4-5, 3-4 SEC) in SEC play Saturday night in Columbia. With the win, the Gamecocks keep the pressure on Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC) coming down the stretch of the regular season.
Florida’s defense gave it a valiant effort against the Gamecocks but a lack of offensive fire power proved to be the downfall for the Gators. Florida was shut out in the second half, allowing South Carolina to make some big plays to rally from a halftime deficit to hold on for the win. With almost nothing to lose with just under five minutes to play, Florida faked a punt on their side of the field on 4th and 13, and it nearly worked but a pass fell incomplete as the Gamecocks pulled through.
South Carolina’s Connor Shaw passed for 213 yards and a touchdown and avoided throwing an interception in the game. The SEC’s leading rusher, Mike Davis, was limited in his production with just 54 yards. Davis was limited in the second half as well after getting banged up. Florida used Skyler Mornhinweg to try and simply manage the offense that relied heavily on the running game. The few times Mornhinweg was asked to throw he was efficient, but he was unable to rise to the occasion when Florida needed to open things up and move down field, trailing by five points with 2:16 to play. Trying to roll out and extend a play with his feet, Mornhingweg made a costly error by throwing down field. The pass was hauled in by South Carolina’s Jimmy Legree and the Gamecocks worked the clock down to triple zeroes.
South Carolina remains one game back of Missouri in the loss column. With South Carolina now done with SEC play for the season, it is up to Missouri to win their final two games of the year against Ole Miss next week and Texas A&M in the season finale. One loss will drop Missouri in to no better than a tie with South Carolina. By virtue of South Carolina’s head-to-head win a few weeks back, the Gamecocks would go to Atlanta to face Alabama or Auburn in the SEC Championship game.
Florida is now in the difficult situation of having to win their final two games just to be eligible for the postseason. Next week Florida will host Georgia Southern and should be able to pick up the win in that one no matter who is or is not available to play. The steep climb to the postseason will come in the season finale at home against Florida State.
In the first half nothing could seem to go wrong for South Carolina, aside from a late interception returned to set up an easy score. The second half almost seemed as nothing could go right. After the Gamecocks marched 75 yards down field on ten plays and took a 35-10 lead out of halftime, South Carolina had to hang on for an SEC East victory against Vanderbilt. South Carolina dug deep and picked up a 35-25 victory.
Vanderbilt scored two touchdowns in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter to trim South Carolina’s lead down to ten points, 35-25. Both scoring drives for Vandy started in South Carolina territory and the Commodores took advantage. A ten-play drive from the South Carolina 49-yard line ended with Austyn Carta-Samuels punching one in from the goal line. He would strike again moments later on a 19-yard pass to running back Wesley Tate. Vanderbilt would soon find themselves right back on the goal line of South Carolina just a foot away from making it a three-point game, but Carta-Samuels threw a poor pass that was picked off in the end zone by Jimmy Legree. Legree was ruled down at the one-yard line after a video review to determine if he had left the end zone after the interception, but it would not matter. South Carolina ran 16 straight plays following an incomplete pass and a penalty to move the ball down field, running down the clock from 8:41 to play all the way down to having just 55 seconds to play. Vanderbilt took over on downs but with no timeouts to use there was nothing they could do to flip the outcome in their favor.
South Carolina entered this season as one of the favorites in the SEC East, and perhaps the SEC depending on who you asked. After three games, have we lowered our expectations for South Carolina? When they are on top of their game, as they were in the first half, they are pretty darn scary. Bu in the second half we saw some of the concerns that should be there when looking at South Carolina in the SEC picture. South carolina will get a bye week to review where they stand at this point.
As for Vanderbilt, an 0-2 start in SEC play is disappointing but not entirely unexpected. Losing at South Carolina seemed likely at the start of the year, but the Ole Miss loss in week one may have been a little surprising at the time. Vanderbilt still has games this season against Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida. At 1-2, thoughts of a bowl game are starting to get a little foggy already but there is still a path to a postseason for Vanderbilt. Next week Vanderbilt should even up their record with a road game at UMass.