Gators looking to finish stronger on both sides of the ball
In the opener two weeks ago at Ole Miss, the Florida defense established what has now become an apparent pattern.
The Gators struggled early, settled down after that and were sound in the second and third quarters, then faded again in the fourth. That pattern worked fine in the first game, because Florida’s offense kept scoring points and put the game safely out of reach in the fourth quarter.
So, no drama in the game’s final minutes.
It was a different story Saturday against South Carolina. The defense held true to its first game form and started giving up plays and points in the fourth quarter. But this time, the offense did not have the defense’s back. The offense didn’t just fade in the fourth quarter, it practically disappeared.
As a result, all the pressure was on the defense and the Gators had to sweat out the win, not securing a win until a fourth-down South Carolina pass fell incomplete in the end zone with 48 seconds to play.
"It's definitely frustrating as an offense,” quarterback Kyle Trask said Monday. “When you’ve got the ball rolling the whole first half and almost three quarters, to see the production just flatline is really frustrating for the offense. We’ve just got to do a better job of taking advantage of when we can close the game out like that.
“If we go down and score another touchdown on those drives, the game's probably blown open with the rest of the team getting in to play. So we just gotta execute the little things and take advantage of situations like that."
After appearing almost unstoppable in building a 38-14 lead late in the third quarter, the UF offense truly did flatline for the entire fourth. The Gators did nothing.
Well, actually, worse than nothing. Not only did they fail to move the ball, they turned it over on a Trask interception that led to a touchdown.
For the quarter, the Gatos had only one first down, ran just 10 plays and gained all of nine yards.
While the offense was spending all but 3:48 of the 15-minute quarter on the sideline, the USC offense was hammering away on the defense, converting third and fourth downs and threatening to possibly come all the way back from what had been a 24-point deficit with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
In the quarter, the Gamecocks ran 29 plays, converted three fourth downs, rolled up 113 total yards and held the ball for 11:12. What may have saved the Gators is the fact that late, last Carolina drive inside the five that led to zero points, consumed almost half the quarter (7:23).
“We played Ole Miss two weeks ago and they were just going to go as fast as possible,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “South Carolina's plan obviously was to ball control, slow the game way down, limit the number of plays you can get offensively.
“I think that goes from game to game, but it shows the efficiency you need offensively. You’ve got to be efficient on offense. That’s a big thing we always harp on. You don’t know how many plays and opportunities you’ll get. Obviously, our last couple possessions offensively were very disappointing, really the whole second half was very disappointing offensively. But that’s the key to being efficient throughout the course of the game.”
The offense was the opposite of efficient in the fourth quarter Saturday. It flatlined, died when the defense really needed its help.
“It was definitely more pressure (on the defense) than if we had gone down and scored,” Trask said. "It would have been a lot less pressure on them. So we can just do our part to take the game completely into our hands at the moment. We’ve just got to execute the little things and we'll be able to do that."
Unlike a week ago, the Gators now head into the third game of the season looking for the killer instinct on both sides of the ball instead of just on defense.
“At 38-14, our ability to finish the game,” Mullen said. “If you look at the game from that point forward, offensively is not very good at all. Defensively, they were going for it a lot on fourth down and we’ve got to understand, when you get the big leads, getting off the field is not just about third down, it is about third down and fourth down. So we got that stuff that we could continue to improve on.
“Our ability right then (when it was 38-14) as a full complete team, at that point to put the game away. You're a stop, or a score away really from the game being completely out of reach and a lot of backups even playing. And that was disappointing. Let’s finish the game. We just kind of cruised to the finish line. And we’ve got to get that changed."
Who: No. 3 Florida (2-0) at No. 20 Texas A&M (1-1)
When: 12 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850