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.”
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