Alan Dell

Commentary | Florida Gators take heart, soul away from Steve Spurrier, South Carolina Gamecocks


This is what creates love affairs.

Your offense gains 29 yards in the first half, and you are leading 21-6.

When the game is over, your quarterback throws four of the most uneventful touchdown passes in Florida Gators history.

It was a career high for sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, but no one seemed to notice. When you get first and goal from inside the 2 and the defense is stacking up the middle for a run, you should hit the pass.

The matchmaker is Will Muschamp, the Gators head coach who now owns the keys to The Swamp and has changed the locks.

His defense is the apple of Gator Nation's eyes.

The defense created four turnovers in the first half and turned them into 21 points.

Thank you, Messrs. Spurrier and Meyer. Nice job, but we don't need you anymore.

When Muschamp took over for Urban Meyer, you heard the talk: He was boring and would put everyone to sleep.

You can only make defense look so exciting, we heard. Even Cinderella had her flaws.

Muschamp put South Carolina into a deep trance with a 44-11 licking Saturday at the Swamp. His defense inflicted the wounds, and then the Gators offense came in for the bloodletting.

This was a Slaughter in The Swamp, but not a surprise from the Gators perspective.

"I don't know if anyone does it (creating turnovers) better than Dan Quinn and our defensive staff," Muschamp said. "In every meeting, we spend a lot of time talking about stripping the ball when they don't have it high and tight, so it's constantly pounded into their heads, especially when we emphasized it last year but didn't do a good job."

Driskel must be wondering why people told him quarterbacking the Gators was one of the toughest gigs in college football.

On Saturday in Florida's biggest game of the year, it was the easiest job in Gainesville.

The toughest task belonged to South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, who couldn't stop the carnage and didn't try to hide his disappointment.

"It was embarrassing for us, embarrassing the way we lost," Spurrier said. "We lay the ball on the ground and basically say, 'Florida, we don't want to win and take this fumble, and this fumble, and this one' and away they went, so it was sad, but their defense stuffed us."

The Gators' first three scoring drives (all in the first half) were started on the 2, the 1 and the 29.

When Driskel hit some passes in the second half, USC's spirit was broken and it was like throwing darts at a carnival.

On the Gamecocks' first offensive play of the game, quarterback Connor Shaw was stripped, Florida recovered at the South Carolina 2, and three plays later Driskel hit Jordan Reed for a touchdown.

"They brought a corner blitz. I never saw it, and the guy (Loucheiz Purifoy) made a good play and swatted it out of my hands," Shaw said.

Ace Sanders, the second-ranked punt returner in the country out of Manatee High, fell victim to the strip parade. His fumble was caused by a former schoolboy rival, Venice High's Trey Burton, in the second quarter on the Gamecocks' 29. It led to a Gator touchdown.

On the ensuing kickoff, Florida stripped Damiere Byrd, recovered on the USC 1 and scored two plays later on another Reed reception from Driskel.

The sophomore signal-caller still hasn't proven he can win a game with his arm. But he may never have to do that the way Florida's defense has played this season.

The Gators have yet to allow a touchdown in their three SEC home games and held their last two home opponents, LSU and USC, both ranked in the top 10, to fewer than 50 yards rushing while outscoring all opponents 61-13 in the fourth quarter. To add a little icing, punter Kyle Christy booted a career-best seven 50-yard punts against the Gamecocks.

Are you listening, Nick Saban and college football's best professional team?

There is Georgia this weekend and FSU down the road and, hopefully for the Gators, Alabama in the SEC title game. So you have to assume one day Driskel will be asked to win a game with his arm. Right now, that is the only unknown commodity on this Gators roster.

But it might not come to that. Florida's defense doesn't just stop people; it strips them bare, taking the football and their heart and some of their sanity.

"We don't deserve to be in the top 15. I don't know what we deserve to be right now. We have to re-evaluate a lot of personnel and get guys out there that really want to play," Spurrier said.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.