Gators ruling the roost


Florida Gators players celebrate after the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in Gainesville, Fla. Florida defeated South Carolina 44-11. (Matt Stamey/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 9:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 10:27 p.m.

This is a Florida football team that not only continues to defy odds, but to defy all logic.

Facts

Three things

1. The Gators turned three first-half turnovers into 21 points and then pulled away in the second half to move to 7-0 on the season and 6-0 in the SEC.
2. Despite throwing for only 93 yards, his third game in a row with less than 100 yards, Jeff Driskel threw for a career-high four touchdowns.
3. The fast and aggressive UF defense dominated throughout, holding the Gamecocks to less than 200 total yards and prompting Steve Spurrier to bench starting quarterback Connor Shaw in the second half.
-- Robbie Andreu

The seventh straight victory in this amazing run — an improbable 44-11 thumping of No. 9 South Carolina on Saturday in The Swamp — may, on the surface, be harder to explain than any of the others.

There seems to be fuzzy math at work here.

How do a mere 183 yards of offense add up to 44 points?

Well, here’s what makes the math perfectly clear: Three turnovers that led directly to 21 points in the first half. A dynamic, game-changing performance by the Gators’ special teams. Four touchdown passes by sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel. More momentum-turning adjustments at halftime by offensive coordinator Brent Pease. And another dominant performance by the UF defense that never let the Gamecocks see the end zone.

It all adds up to No. 3 Florida (7-0 overall and 6-0 in the SEC) now having a chance to clinch the Eastern Division title with a victory over Georgia next Saturday in Jacksonville. South Carolina falls to 6-2 and 4-2.

Who would have thunk it before the start of the season?

Well, Will Muschamp for one.

“No, (I’m not surprised),” Muschamp said. “I expect to win them all. I did last year. It’s just what you do as a coach. You find a way to get it done. Whether the odds are better for you or not doesn’t matter. You have a positive outlook on everything in the organization from playing and recruiting and practicing. I choose to believe that way.”

Muschamp certainly is a believer in this team. He believes they will find a way to win, and that’s something they’ve done in all seven games.

They won Saturday’s game with turnovers, great special teams play, near perfection in the red zone (six touchdowns on seven trips), strong defense — and simply a will to find a way to win.

“It’s another team win,” Muschamp said. “We don’t have too much of a margin of error here. We’re a team that’s playing defense pretty decent at times and pretty consistent. Offensively, we’re doing what we have to do to take advantage of the other team and give us an opportunity to win the game.

“We played really well on special teams and controlled the vertical field position. That’s really who we are. I said that after the Texas A&M game. That’s who we are.”

The Gators built a 21-6 halftime lead despite gaining only 29 yards on offense and getting pushed around by a strong USC defensive front, led by dominant defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

They did it by scoring three touchdowns directly off turnovers, the first coming on the first offensive play of the game, when Loucheiz Purifoy forced a fumble while hitting quarterback Connor Shaw in the backfield. The loose ball was recovered by Lerentee McCray on the USC 2-yard line. Two plays later, Driskel threw a 3-yard TD pass to tight end Jordan Reed.

The quick turnover and score gave the Gators a 7-0 lead and set the tone for the first half.

Two lightning-fast touchdowns came late in the second quarter, set up by forced fumbles and recoveries on special teams.

Trey Burton forced and recovered a fumble by USC punt returner Ace Sanders that led to another 13-yard TD pass from Driskel to wide receiver Quinton Dunbar for a 14-3 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Solomon Patton forced returner Damiere Byrd to fumble and Chris Johnson picked up the ball and scooted to the 1, setting up another 1-yard Driskel-to-Reed touchdown pass.

“It was a resilient team effort, Muschamp said. “The key to the game was the turnovers that go for 21 points. And six times in the red zone scoring touchdowns (out of seven tries). They had two opportunities in the red zone and kicked field goals.”

The result was a 21-6 halftime lead.

And like the Gators and offensive coordinator Brent Pease have done all season, UF made adjustments on offense that led to two touchdowns and a field goal on the first three possessions of the second half to put the game away.

“The third quarter was critical,” Muschamp said. “They had zero first downs, and we had 133 yards and were able to move the football. We were able to go to some things that we saw at halftime we felt we could take advantage of offensively.”

The Gators did the same thing in their big come-from-behind win over LSU two weeks ago.

“(Pease) comes back in at halftime and they meet as a staff and then they come break it down for us,” said senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr., who caught a 6-yard TD pass late in the third quarter. “He’s like, ‘They’re playing this coverage and we can do this, we’ve got this play and this play.’

“He puts plays in and takes plays out that weren’t working, and we just roll from there.”

UF’s offensive numbers may lead some to assume that this was an ugly victory. But that final score sure looks pretty, and that’s all this team seems to care about.

“You’re not going to score touchdowns on every drive,” said Driskel, who completed 11 of 16 passes for 93 yards and was sacked four times. “You’re not going to be able to run for 200 yards on every team.

“When we have to have big runs, we’re going to be able to get them. And we hit some big passes when we needed to in the red zone. We’ve gotten better every game.”

And now they move on, 7-0 with a chance to win the division next Saturday.

With two SEC losses, Steve Spurrier’s team is pretty much out of the race.

“We had a bad one today,” Spurrier said. “LSU was bad (last week). This one was worse. We have to regroup somehow.”

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