FOOTBALL

Abolverdi's Answers: Gators plagued again by turnovers, defensive collapse

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida offensive lineman Michael Tarquin (70) blocks South Carolina defensive end Aaron Sterling (15) as quarterback Emory Jones (5) scrambles Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Before every Florida game, Sun college football beat writer Zach Abolverdi comes up with five pertinent questions and then answers them after the game. Here's Week 9 after the Gators' 40-17 loss at South Carolina:

Back in his starting role, how does Emory Jones perform on the road?

Despite testing positive for the flu Saturday morning and needing IV fluids before kickoff, quarterback Emory Jones was able to start for Florida. He opened the game with 10 consecutive pass attempts, throwing for 102 yards and a touchdown on his first two drives. Over the next six possessions, however, UF’s offense only ran 20 plays for 33 yards, including two three-and-outs, a turnover on downs and South Carolina’s scoop-and-score. Jones finished with his second-highest passing total (258 yards), but rushed for just 26 yards on 11 carries and had his fourth two-turnover performance of the season. 

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Can Florida take care of the ball after seven turnovers in their last two losses?

After that abysmal six-series stretch, Jones led the offense on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth. UF’s defense then forced back-to-back three-and-outs, and if Jones orchestrated two more TD drives, the Gators would have cut the deficit to 40-32 with a two-point conversion and had a chance to comeback. Instead, Jones committed another turnover and went three-and-out. After that first defensive stop, he missed a wide open Keon Zipperer over the middle and was picked off on a sideline pass behind Jacob Copeland. It marked Jones’ 10th interception of the season, the most by a Florida quarterback since Jeff Driskel in 2014. 

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Do the Gators rush for 200 yards for the first time since the Tennessee game? 

Facing a South Carolina defense ranked 87th nationally at stopping the run, UF’s top-ranked rushing attack was held under 100 yards for the first time this year. Florida finished with a season-low 82 yards on 26 attempts, and no running back received more than six carries. Dameon Pierce had a team-high 39 yards and maintained his season average of over six yards per carry, but two of the six carries for both him and Malik Davis came on Florida’s final drive of the game. Gators coach Dan Mullen said he didn’t run the ball more because USC loaded the box and his O-line had execution issues, but Pierce's lack of touches is mindboggling. 

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Can Florida get pressure on USC’s quarterback(s) and force some bad throws?

South Carolina QB Jason Brown faced some pressure in his first FBS start, but not nearly enough. UF registered with six quarterback hurries against Brown, with all of them forcing incompletions and four coming on third down. Brenton Cox Jr. also batted down two passes on the same drive. Brown was sacked once by Jeremiah Moon on third down following Jones’ interception. The Gators made multiple sacks in every game during the first half of this season (20 total sacks), but have sacked the quarterback just once in each of their last three losses. With the play of Brown (175 pass yards, two TDs) and tailbacks Kevin Harris (128 yards) and ZaQuandre White (111 yards), South Carolina's backfield had a big night. 

Will the UF defense limit scores after giving up 69 points to LSU and UGA?

The Gators gave up 40 points — the most South Carolina has ever scored in this series — for the second time this season (49, LSU). Their defense was responsible for 33 of the points scored. With the shutout against Vanderbilt, Florida had allowed just 37 points over its last 15 quarters. Todd Grantham’s unit has now surrendered 102 points in the last three games since that 42-0 win. The Gamecocks scored on their first five drives and four red-zone trips, including three touchdowns, before going conservative on their final possession and turning the ball over on downs on fourth-and-goal.

Zach Abolverdi, the new UF Football Beat Writer at The Gainesville Sun, Dec. 1, 2020.

—  Zach Abolverdi is a staff writer for The Gainesville Sun. He can be reached at zabolverdi@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAbolverdi

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Who: Samford (4-5) vs. Florida (4-5)

When: 12 p.m. Saturday

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Online: SEC Network+/ESPN+

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850