COLUMBIA, S.C. — As they shuffled into the visiting locker room and out of the raindrops after the game, Florida’s football players grabbed pizza slices and bottled waters and took warm slaps on their shoulder pads.
This wasn’t a wild and crazy celebration, more like the end of a long business trip. And they made the sale.
These were guys who were punched in the mouth early, spit the blood into a bucket and slammed their mouthpieces back in to go to work.
“We’re never going to panic no matter the situation,” quarterback Kyle Trask said. “We’re always going to make the plays we have to make.”
It was Trask, whose legend seems to have no ceiling, starting slowly as if the sloppy conditions and wet ball were his Kryptonite. Not to mention guys not being on the same page.
Trask got his receivers together and told them, “Come on, now. This isn’t us.”
There had been a comedy of errors early, but nobody was laughing on the East sideline.
Least of all the head coach.
“Guys were missing signals. Guys were running the wrong way, running one play and Kyle was calling another,” Dan Mullen said. “We were all over the place. That’s kind of annoying.”
Maybe it was the light rain that was off and on through the game (to quote Lieutenant Dan, “You call that a storm?!?!”)
More likely, it was just that these guys were a little bit mentally worn down after the last two weeks.
Mullen saw it in practice. His guys were trying hard, but the focus was not quite where it needed to be. As the day began, he had admitted to thinking to himself, “Maybe we’re not going to handle the adversity.”
I’m sure there was also this fleeting thought — “OK, this is last year’s Missouri game all over again, huh?”
But this team would not let one loss become two. The Gators got a little help from the officials (we don’t even need to rewatch the game to give out their grade) and a lot of help from South Carolina’s uneven playcalling.
(Are you going to go Will Muschamp Conservative or Steve Spurrier take a bunch of chances on deep balls? Make up your mind.)
But in the end, Florida won because the Gators stuck with a plan and continued to ride their quarterback. He had only 200 yards Saturday, but four touchdown passes.
“He was trying to do too much early,” Mullen said.
By the end of the game, he was shushing what was left of a soggy crowd and a student section that got so fed up with the officiating the youngsters started throwing towels onto the field.
I can only assume the “readers” came next.
You remember Feleipe Franks shushing the crowd last year against South Carolina, but those were his own fans. This was more of a “came, saw, kicked some butt” kind of a shush.
“I had to do one for Franks right there,” Trask said.
There was a lot that did not go right for Florida on Saturday. South Carolina showed something that I suspected last week — that the loss of Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga hurts Florida as much in the rushing game as the passing game.
“They attacked those spots,” Mullen said.
There was also this — a bunch of young guys making big plays.
The biggest might have been the 75-yard run by Dameon Pierce. Remember that the Gamecocks had just forced an interception on the second play of the second half and scored on a third-and-11 draw play from the UF 21.
“I thought huge at that point,” Mullen said of the Pierce run that probably included a Florida false start. “We come out in the second half, we’re like, all right, we’re getting the ball, tie game, we’re in good position. We’re like, we don’t want it, you take it, and then they score on a third down and long and it’s kind of like, holy mackerel!
“I think that brought some juice and life to this team, just to avoid the negative start to the second half. It kind of changed it around immediately.”
From that point on, Trask started making better, more efficient throws and the Gators started finding the end zone. First, Freddie Swain on an acrobatic catch.
Then Kyle Pitts and Trevon Grimes on a couple of shorties.
And just like that, the boys could relax and start thinking about the future instead of the present.
“They made the plays at the end,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said, “and we didn’t.”
Funny how the game works out that way.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.