COLUMBIA, S.C. — Brandon Powell sat on the cold, hard bench as the players from both sidelines headed to the middle of the field. He stared straight ahead while chewing on a blue mouthpiece like it was bubblegum.
He didn’t have to speak for you to know what was going through his head.
How did this happen?
How could a team that came into the summer with so much promise be fielding another kick in the gut?
How could this team, these guys with such high aspirations, be staring into the barrel of a bowl-less season after five straight losses?
How could he have muffed another punt?
In a season that feels like moccasins are taking turns chomping on bare chunks of flesh, if it could go wrong for Florida it did again Saturday.
Snakebit? Murphy’s Law would be a 10-point favorite over these Gators.
“There are no moral victories,” UF interim coach Randy Shannon said.
This is Florida, not Wofford. There are never moral victories at this place. Instead, a season on the brink has been officially pushed over the cliff and onto the jagged rocks of misery and despair.
“It’s been a bumpy path,” said linebacker David Reese, who played his rear end off Saturday. “We’re going through an ugly spot.”
That Florida never quit Saturday even when it was down to 53 scholarship players (and not the right 53) by game’s end is commendable.
But let’s face it.
The reason this game came down to the last possession was because the coach on the other sideline tends to find himself in a lot of games like this one. It’s just that his mojo has been better in Columbia than it was in Gainesville.
There were times when this game looked like two drunks trying to put together a stereo with the wrong kind of screwdriver.
You try it. No, you try it.
There were so many plays that summed up over and over again what has gone wrong with Florida this season it was almost comical.
You want Florida’s season in microcosm? How about a whole game worth of microcosm? (Is that even possible?)
There was what looked like another pick-six for CJ Henderson, except, of course, he left the ball on the ground short of the end zone.
And South Carolina recovered.
And ran it back for a what ended up a 20-yard gain on the play.
Really. I’m not making this up.
“That was tough,” Shannon said.
Florida looked like it had another pick-six but Chauncey Gardner Jr. was tripped up by a shoelace. Of course he was.
There was the costly, hard-to-understand sack that Feleipe Franks took at the start of the fourth quarter to take the Gators out of Gamecock territory.
Or my favorite, the third-and-18 play later in the quarter when Doug Nussmeier dialed up a perfect call and Franks threw a perfect pass and Freddie Swain perfectly dropped it at the sticks.
This one hurt these guys a little more than the last two if only because it wasn’t over at halftime and there was actually a chance late. But it still ended the same way.
A losing season now secured (there’s no way Florida would appeal for a bowl game at 5-6 with no players and a new coaching staff on the way), the Gators made the walk of shame into the northwest tunnel of Williams-Brice Stadium with South Carolina’s student section chirping in their ears.
“You’re a bum, No. 13.”
“How do you like that ‘L,’ buddy?”
“You know how many wins you have? Three. Count ’em. Three.”
“You guys stink.”
I’m sure those young men spent the rest of the night polishing all of the SEC football championship trophies won by South Carolina in its history, but fans will be fans.
What matters is that the players on this team don’t deserve what has happened to them.
None of them were arrested in the offseason, choosing to put themselves over their teammates. None of them asked for their coach to be fired in the middle of the season.
None of them signed on to lose a game to a hurricane or to see teammate after teammate in walking boots and hospital gowns.
“Not making any excuses,” Reese said, “but we’ve lost a lot of numbers.”
One group of those numbers more than any other.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.