COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Florida notched its first losing record in the Southeastern Conference in 25 years after Saturday’s 17-12 loss to No. 15 South Carolina. First-year coach Will Muschamp said this team is a lot better than that record might indicate.
“I see a lot of improvement regardless of the results,” Muschamp said. “Everybody wants results and I do, too. It’s about winning and I understand that. In the big picture of things, we’ve made tremendous improvement.”
The problems Saturday again came on offense. The Gators (5-5, 3-5 SEC) gained just 261 yards on Saturday. They twice settled for field goals inside the 10 and fumbled twice.
“It’s like I said all year. In the SEC, you have to score in the red zone and you can’t turn the ball over,” running back Chris Rainey said. “It’s killing me. We’re right there. We just have to do a little more. I believe we should have won this game, definitely.”
The South Carolina win completed a turnabout in the SEC East. Last time Florida came to South Carolina in 2009, the Gators were No. 1 in the country and finished an unbeaten league season for the fifth time, while the Gamecocks were wrapping up a 12th losing conference record in 18 years.
This year, South Carolina (8-2, 6-2) beat every team in the SEC East and had six league wins for the first time since joining the conference in 1992. Coach Steve Spurrier, a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback for the Gators who led them to a national championship as their coach, cried in the locker room Saturday. He said it was his sweetest win ever at his new school because the Gamecocks have now beaten each of the old traditional powers in the East -- Florida, Georgia and Tennessee -- two years in a row.
“It’s one of the best I’ve ever had, not because it’s my old school,’ Spurrier said. “But because it is six wins in the conference and beating those schools that have dominated South Carolina.”
Muschamp isn’t ready to concede there is a new order in the SEC.
“We have two good teams in our league -- and that’s Alabama and LSU -- and the rest of us you can throw us in a sack and shake us up,” he said.
The Gamecocks came in planning to pass, but quarterback Connor Shaw said they quickly discovered that Florida was daring them to run. So Shaw and freshman running back Brandon Wilds started pounding Florida. South Carolina had 160 yards rushing in the first half while jumping to a 14-3 lead.
“They came out in basically the same thing Tennessee did, just a big zone, and forced us to run the ball,” Shaw said. “And I think we proved we can.”
Florida shut down the running game in the second half, and climbed back into it. A 2-yard touchdown run by Jacoby Brissett made it 14-12 with 11:13 to go, but the Gators got only one more good chance. They drove inside Gamecocks territory midway through the fourth quarter, but Melvin Ingram tacked quarterback John Brantley for a 6-yard loss on a run, then forced him to throw the ball away on 3rd-and-22, ending the threat.
“We have to be able to finish. Our coaches preach to us that it doesn’t matter what happens in the first half, we have to do a better job of finishing in the end,” Brantley said.
Wilds led the team with 120 yards rushing, while Shaw added 88 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
“A lot of their run game in the first half was quarterback scrambles,” Muschamp said. “Pass rush discipline has been an issue.”
Rainey led Florida with 132 yards on 17 carries, and Brantley went 13 of 21 for 119 yards.
Muschamp said he will mark this loss up as another close one the Gators let go, just like defeats to Auburn and Georgia.
“We had three opportunities to win three games and we didn’t. That comes back on my shoulders,” Muschamp said. “I have to do a better job preparing our team.”