5 takeaways as Gators hang on to down South Carolina 38-24
If Florida fans thought they’d feel uncomfortable wearing a face mask all day long in the warm and sunny Swamp, well, that was really nothing. At least compared to how uncomfortable their own team made them feel in what could best be described as a nervous fourth quarter.
In command, leading 38-14 late in the third quarter Saturday, the Gators had to hang on for a 38-24 win over South Carolina in a game that was closer than the final score might indicate.
The Gators did not seal the deal until USC quarterback Collin Hill’s fourth-down pass from the 4-yard line fell incomplete in the end zone with 48 seconds left in the game.
"Great win, 2-0 in the SEC," UF coach Dan Mullen said. "Obviously, tough opponent. I thought we did some things better than we did last week. We made some mistakes that you can't make throughout the course of the game. I don't know how well we played today, but I liked our attitude. Our guys came out and made plays when we needed to make them at critical moments of the game. We made the plays we needed to win. We want to play better."
Kyle-to-Kyle stays red-shot, for a half
Trask and Pitts did not put up the overwhelming numbers that they did a week ago in Oxford, but they still proved to be a potent connection again. At least for a half. In the first half, the two hooked up for two touchdown passes, giving that combo six in two games. Pitts also set up UF’s first touchdown of the game with a 20-yard reception along the sideline.
To South Carolina's credit, they disconnected Kyle-to-Kyle in the second half, shutting down Pitts, whose four catches all came in the first half.
Mullen said the Gamecocks did not make any adjustments that led to Pitts getting shut out in the second half.
“Nothing. I just think we didn’t execute very cleanly," he said.
Offense tanks in the fourth
Many will look at the 24 points put up by USC and blame the defense. But two of the three touchdowns are on the offense and Trask. He had two turnovers — a fumble and interception — that the Gamecocks cashed in for touchdowns, one in the first half, another in the second.
And in the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks found themselves in the game because the UF offense did nothing. The Gators ran only nine plays in the quarter, including three on kneel downs at the end, and generated just nine total yards.
"I don’t think we got into a very good rhythm in the second half at all offensively," Mullen said. "A lot of that is going to be on me, play calling. Execution, I don’t think we had very good rhythm in the second half, with the three-and-outs, the turnovers, terrible. We just didn’t execute very well.”
Defense makes the play it had to
The Florlda defense had problems getting off the field on third and fourth-down plays throughout the game, but when they needed a stop the most, they came up with one, stopping South Carolina on a fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line with 48 seconds left in the game. The Gators flushed quarterback Collin Hill out of the pocket and his pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
“I think it’s huge to make that play at the end," Mullen said. "We certainly have to get a lot better with how we finished the game. Offensively, should have finished the game much sooner. Defensively, have the opportunity to get off the field. I think the first time we stopped them (on fourth down) was on the last play of the game there. I mean we gave up 11 conversions today. We gave up good opportunities, whether it's third or fourth down, so we've got to do a better job getting off the field. When it came down to it we made the plays that won the game, but we've got to get a lot better."
Toney not a gimmick guy anymore
Even though Kadarius Toney has been a slot receiver throughout his career, he’s never really been viewed as a wide receiver because he was mainly used as a runner on jet sweeps or catching the ball behind the line on screen passes.
He’s a different player now — a true wide receiver, something he set out to do this season.
For the second week in a row, Toney was a key part of the downfield passing game. He had one of the biggest plays of the game Saturday, caching a pass over the middle and racing for a 57-yard touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Gators a 38-14 lead.
He finished as UF's leading receiver with six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
“KT does a lot," Mullen said. "You can see how he’s grown as a player for us in his ability to get open, his consistency in his route-running."
Some young WRs starting to emerge
With opposing defenses focusing on trying to contain Pitts, opportunities have been there for some other receivers to make plays. Two young guys — redshirt freshman Trent Whittemore and true freshman Xzavier Henderson — did just that Saturday.
Whittemore caught a 21-yard pass that set up a first-quarter touchdown, then he caught a four-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
"Oh, yeah, it felt great," Whittemore said of his TD catch. "Just felt blessed to be back in The Swamp. It feels great to be playing football again, and to get a TD with my family there, friends there, it's just a blessing, huge blessing."
Henderson, one of the fastest players on the team, had a 23-yard reception that set up a touchdown and drew a pass interference deep down the field that set up another.
Who: No. 3 Florida at No. 13 Texas A&M
When: TBA, Oct. 10
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Online: Click to Gatorsports.com for statistics, photo galleries, features, video and more from Saturday's game