Florida made a lot of big plays Saturday to turn a 31-14 deficit late in the third quarter into a 35-31 victory over South Carolina.
But take away one play — one fluky, almost forgotten play — and maybe all those other plays don’t happen and the Gators are sitting at 6-4 and owning a three-game losing streak today instead being 7-3.
The play of the game turned out to be a scramble play where Feleipe Franks rolled right and threw a desperation pass that was deflected and somehow found its way into the arms by Trevon Grimes to convert a third-and-eight to the UF 46.
Had that fortunate play been just another frustrating incompletion, which it appeared it would be when the pass was thrown, the Gators would have been facing a fourth-and-eight from their own 37 with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Game, perhaps, is over.
The comeback, perhaps, never happens
But the play was made, and the Gators — and the game — were never the same from that point on.
That one fluke play launched the comeback.
After the Grimes catch, the Gators were suddenly unstoppable.
Three plays later, Kadarius Toney scored on an 18-yard screen pass with 56 seconds left in the third quarter to make it a 31-21 game.
On UF’s next possession, the Gators drove 89 yards in eight plays, closing it out with a 23-yard TD run by Lamical Perine with 11:03 remaining in the game to draw UF to within three, 31-28.
Following another defensive stop that gave the ball right back to the offense, the Gators drove 66 yards, all on the ground, for the winning touchdown, which came on a 1-yard dive by Franks on fourth-and-goal with 4:47 remaining.
After that unlikely third-down catch by Grimes in the third quarter, the Gators outscored the Gamecocks 21-0 and outgained them 243 yards to 36.
Game won, 35-31.
Had Grimes not made that catch, well …
“Those guys had, what, lost two games in a row,” South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson said after the game. “They were getting ready to go off of that cliff. But then momentum changed (with that play). That gave them the mindset that they’re still in it. After that happened, those guys just picked it up and started playing a lot harder the rest of the game. We just didn’t stop them enough after that.”
The game had seemed all but over before the critical third-down conversion. The Gamecocks had just gone up 31-14 after setting up a short touchdown run with an 89-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Deebo Samuel. When UF opened its next possession with a false start penalty on tackle Martez Ivey, the Gators seemed dead.
Then Grimes caught a 15-yard pass from Franks for a first down.
Two plays later, Grimes reeled in the deflected pass to convert third-and-eight.
“That was a big play in the game,” UF coach Dan Mullen said Monday. “After they scored their last touchdown, the stats weren’t very close. After they went up 31-14, the stats were very lopsided. That was just a big play. We might’ve had to punt in that situation. Watching it, it was pretty much a busted play all the way around.
“When you have good players, the ball tends to bounce your way more when you go hard. A guy just made a play. Getting the first down there was critical for us. It’s hard to say that play changed the game, but that first down in that situation did.”
Mullen said the way the Gators played after the play is an indication of what they were capable of doing on offense Saturday, but penalties kept putting the Gators behind the chains earlier in the game.
“That play converted that first down,” Mullen said. “If I’m not mistaken, that point on — and that’s when you see the stats go (in UF’s favor) — we didn’t have any self-inflicted penalties, any self-inflicted problems on offense. The point is, what if we didn’t do self-inflicted stuff the whole day, would the whole day have been that way? And if we can execute at a high level, look at what we can accomplish when we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot.”