Out of chances: Gators’ bowl hopes flushed

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Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks watches a batted pass fall to the turf Saturday against South Carolina during the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. [Sean Rayford/Associated Press]

COLUMBIA, S.C. — They aren’t going to a bowl game. They’re not going to have a winning record.

The disappointing outcome to this sad season has now been determined.

Other than pride, there’s little left for the Florida Gators to play for the next two Saturdays.

To their credit, the Gators played harder and were more competitive Saturday than they were in back-to-back blowout losses the past two weeks. But, the result was ultimately the same, another SEC loss, this time 28-20 to South Carolina, for Florida’s fifth consecutive defeat in a season that has been turned upside down by suspensions and injuries.

At 3-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC, the Gators will not be playing in the postseason. Instead, the focus now turns to athletic director Scott Stricklin’s search for a new head football coach — and a new beginning.

At least the new coach, whoever he turns out to be, would have seen Saturday this depleted team may be down, but it still has some fight left in it.

“Like the way these guys fought,” interim head coach Randy Shannon said. “They hung in there. Nobody quit. That tells you something about this program. Real excited about it. I told those guys in that locker room, this Gator football team, this Gator program, is in good hands because of what those guys showed today. They never quit. Gators never quit, and those guys didn’t quit.”

Down 28-13 late in the fourth quarter, the Gators rallied and had a chance to possibly tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the closing minutes. But a third-down pass by Feleipe Franks was tipped and intercepted by South Carolina nickelback Jamyest Williams on the UF 48 with 1:06 to play.

UF had made it a one-possession game with a 1-yard TD run by Mark Thompson with 3:43 to play, following a 63-yard pass from Franks to tight end Moral Stephens.

“Tough one today for, being a part of this Gator family,” Shannon said. “Guys went there and fought today. We did a lot of great things. We did a lot of things we need to keep improving on. Had a chance at the end of the game. We worked on it, in a two-minute situation and have a chance to go up and score points and go for two at the end of the game and just couldn’t get it done.”

The Gators somehow still had a chance to possibly win a game in which they just as easily could have been blown out again.

They hung in there despite losing starting quarterback Malik Zaire to an injured knee in the second quarter and committing some crucial turnovers, the biggest being cornerback C.J. Henderson’s fumble at the goal line when it looked like he was going to score on a pick-six that would have tied the game in the first quarter.

“We had opportunities, couple turnovers on defense that we couldn’t capitalize with on offense,” Shannon said. “But like anything else, we have to keep guys out of the end zone and when we have an opportunity to put points on the board, we have to. Those things happen in the game.

“We have to go back and go to the drawing board and go back and say what can we do and what we cannot do and how can we improve? We worked on the red zone, we got points in the red zone? You know what I mean? We stopped people in the red zone and we let them score a little bit. So the things we’re working on we’re getting better at and we’re going to continue to do those type of things.”

The Gamecocks added a touchdown later in the first quarter on a 24-yard run by Mon Denson.

At that point, it appeared the Gators might be susceptible to a third straight blowout loss.

But every time it looked like the Gamecocks (7-3 overall and 5-3 in the SEC) were about to pull away, the Gators found a way to stay within striking distance.

Down 21-6 late in the first half, the Gators gained some momentum with an 18-yard TD run by Lamical Perine to make it a one possession game going into halftime.

When Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley scored on a 7-yard run late in the third quarter, the Gators appeared on the brink again.

Then they rallied in the fourth quarter and put themselves in a possession to possibly force overtime.

It was a much better and much more competitive performance by the Gators than what they showed the previous two weeks, when they lost to Georgia and Missouri by a combined score of 87-23.

“We’ve been going through a lot of obstacles from the offseason until now,” sophomore middle linebacker David Reese said. “It’s been a bumpy path. But we just have to step up and do what’s right for the program and stuff like that. We’ve just got to be Gators.

“Our coach talked to us about what a Florida Gator is — having swag, having confidence, doing what’s right and try to lead by example. We need to do those things and really implement those things in this program.”

As for moving forward, the Gators may have to do it without Zaire. His knee injury will be re-evaluated today. There’s a chance he could be out for the final two games.

It’s just more adversity for a team that’s been hit with it week after week throughout the season.

Despite all that’s gone wrong, the Gators apparently want to fight on.

“You know what, they’re Gators,” Shannon said. We talked all along about being together, we talked about ownership, we talked about having some guts and never quit, always believe.

“The common goal is to win and they understood that this week. The guys did a good job of fighting and trying to get it done. Wasn’t good enough. We wanted to win. I’m not going to sit up there and say it’s a moral victory. There are no moral victories.”

While it was another tough loss for the Gators, it was a sweet victory for the Gamecocks and former UF head coach Will Muschamp.

“We made plays when we needed to make plays,” Muschamp said. “Give Florida credit. Those kids have been through an awful lot. They’ve got a bunch of good kids in that locker room and it’s a tough situation they’re going through right now.”


UP NEXT

Who: UAB vs. Florida

When: 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


48 COMMENTS

    • Really! Was Sweeney a big time hire when he took over at Clemson, was Malzahn out of Arkansas St. a big time hire. Meyer came to Florida form Utah, not exactly a big time hire. Did LSU make a big time hire, hardly. Tennessee was once one of the best programs in college football, was Jones a big time hire, no way. Penn St. hired a guy from Vanderbilt, that certainly is not a big time football school. In fact most successful coaches start small and work up. You do not know how a coach will work out. The next coach is going to have a very difficult job.

      • Meyer went Utah – Florida – Ohio State. Stepping stones, get it ? Guess who is at the top of that food chain. That’s the problem.

        We are apparently one notch above UCF in the food chain. Pathetic for a school with our history.

        LSU has hired nobody , they still have Ogeron because they tried to get Fisher and failed. Can’t blame them for trying.

        Tennesee hired an unproven coach and is about to fire him and get another one just like us. UT is screwed for years.

        Mcelwain had a better resume than Frost or Norville by a mile, not even close.
        This is not promoting Mcelwain this is a reality check on Frost and Norville.

        Miami hired Richt and is top 10 in the second year. Coincidence ? No.

        You want to feel like a smart guy and gamble on a unknown and get lucky ? That has happened 2 times in a row and we can’t afford another one.

      • Very well said! I’ll take the liberty to expand your argument to basketball: Billy Donovan and Mike White were not big time hires and look at their respective successes. Also, if a “big time” coach is willing to leave a “big time” program for one that is in a shambles, then there is a “big time” concern there.

  1. Looking forward now to three things:
    1. The beginning of the Florida basketball season Monday night.
    2. Finding out who is hired by Sticklin as the Florida football head coach and who he then hires as his assistant coaches.
    3. The 2018 football signing class, which I pray includes Matt Corral. Please, God!

  2. Also, Muschamp has two of his players at Florida block each other on a play. Now, Shannon has two of his Florida players tackle each other on a play, keeping either from scoring a TD on the pass. Comically sad, this team.

    • I know it fits the script, but to really be fair, that was two Gators making an effort. Both had beaten their defenders, and when Franks threw the ball (I should say’heaved’), it split the two, and they both went for it. Hey, at least they didn’t yell, “I got it!…Oops, you take it” and nobody makes the catch…I tell you one thing, if adversity is a teacher, these guys are learning some valuable lessons this year. And I can almost guarantee this will be a really hungry bunch come next season…

  3. And finally, I believe Florida could still get invited to a bowl game by beating UAB and FSU at 5 and 6 because of the schedule they will have played. But I pray they do not. Enough of this misery for one year.

  4. Muschamp was a class act at UF, was a class act when he was fired and was a class act in his 1st win over UF. When will you folks realize Mushchamp left UF with a championship defense that took Mac, the over rated clown to Atlanta. Plus he left him a championship QB, Grier, but Mac’s good old boy attitude destroyed the disaplined culture Muschamp had developed. What has Mac left UF……9 felons. Muschamp left G’ville like a man, MAC left with his tail between Clairabelle’s (his secret Qb weapon) legs.

  5. We have not earned a bowl bid, but today as in some other games we could have won with some better play. As noted they did not quit as last week, they should be playing for each other, fellow Gators, and to put some good things on tape for the future.

    • In what world is Muschamp a good coach? Are you calling him a good coach cause he’s 7-3 playing an absolute joke of a schedule where they only play 1 ranked team and have lost to every half decent team they’ve faced? That record’s all smoke and mirrors. The fact of the matter is his offense, with a proven starter at QB, ranks 106th in the nation. Only a few spots above the absolute joke of an offense the Gators have. He just barely beat the Gators who are a complete disaster right now. Funny how Mac sucked winning 10 games with a terrible offense, but Muschamp is suddenly a “good coach” with 7 wins and just as bad of an offense. Gator fans are something else that’s for sure.

    • Thecaw. Do not see Chip Kelly coming to Florida with all the issues he left behind at Oregon and the conflicts he had with owners and players in the NFL. We do not need any more of that. Frost or Norvell would be better options for now and in the future in my opinion. And by the way MSU is playing Bama tonight, Mullen might be a better option as well. But I doubt his wife would allow a return to Gainesville.

  6. Rick Gillmore is right about the Gators still being able to get into a bowl if we beat UAB and FSU, but not because of our strength of schedule. The rule about having to be above .500 was relaxed in situations where there are not enough teams to fill out all the bowl slots. In that case, the 5-6 team(s) with highest APR would be selected, and I understand ours is respectable. So, unlikely, but still possible.

  7. Does Shannon not realize that this football has indeed quit? Maybe it show up in the game against SC, but the Gators have already quit on this season. They quit a few weeks ago. Oh, and Robbie – this team has no pride. None whatsoever. They won’t win another game this season.

  8. it is sad to see the one time mighty gator that any program in the the country scare to face it, now become just like so weak that every school can walk on them and laugh. You all remember after losing by point to the ole Miss, the player took the responsibility for loss and player dd not allow the coaches take the blame. I t was Tim took the podium and deliver what was on all the Gator players and we won the championship that year. We are and we will coming back again to glory of those day, be positive and go my beloved Gator. God will shine on our Gator once again

  9. My # 1 pick is Coach Mullen from MSU – Bama beat MSU at the last second – MSU gave Bama one hell of a game. Mullen was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator when we won two national titles. You want someone who is a proven commodity? This is Coach Mullen – bring him to Florida and give him at least five years to rebuild this program. I predict that in just 3 years we will be contending for the SEC title. GO GATORS!!!

  10. I still believe coaching hires are a crap shoot. Very similar to QB signings. You can do your homework and research and resume check, then make your pick and let it play out. I said here a few games ago, look at the last 15 QB signings…how many ended up having the ‘it’ factor and went on to Gator ‘stardom’? Crap shoot. Look at the last 15 coaching hires…how many took us to SEC championships and the occasional NC? I’ll assume the relevant AD thought each hire was the next big thing to grace Florida Field with their football expertise (or else why hire him). Crap shoot. And is having an interim throughout all of next season that crazy? Because now the UAA will be so paranoid about this next hire…because they know the next one has GOT to be a ringer. So paranoid they will be afraid to pull the trigger on almost anyone not named Frost or Kelly or Tebow (had to throw that in there).

    Goodness gracious. I just can’t help but think that we are now the Ole Miss of the SEC East. A nice semi rich tradition (in a Gators perspective), but every year now, just not quite there. Where winning 8 ballgames is a great year. I mean honestly, does anyone see us being relevant in the SEC anytime in the near (or far for that matter), future? I hate to be so ‘doom and gloom’ but I’m a realist and barring a ‘miracle’ coaching hire I’m afraid we will thrash around in the La Brea Tar Pits of college football for a while to come.

    Another public service announcement from your Narcoossee Gator Club

    • Did anyone think Miami would be a playoff favorite this season after being irrelevant far longer than the Gators have? Did any Gator fan think Richt would have immediate success after his failures at UGA? I mean what would Gator fans say if they hired a coach just fired from his previous job? You’re right it is a crap shoot, but your wrong in saying that we won’t be relevant in the near future. It’s doesn’t have to be a “miracle” coaching hire, it just has to be the right fit like Richt seems to be at UM.

    • Correct! If our next hire can turn this program around in a couple years that would be a miracle. How many Richt’s are out there? Not many that I know of. I don’t envy the person who will ultimately make the decision on the next coach. Because Gator Nation will only tolerate a Richt or Frost or anyone, in the eyes of Gator fandom, that doesn’t profess to be the next Spurrier. Some of SOS’s comments, as he walked out the door, about Joe Bob Gator Fan’s inability to tolerate any loss.