The Daily Gamecock

Miscues on defense, special teams contribute to South Carolina's late collapse against Florida

<p>Head coach Shane Beamer looks toward the scoreboard as he walks the sideline during South Carolina's game against Flordia on Oct. 14, 2023, at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks lost to the Gators 41-39.</p>
Head coach Shane Beamer looks toward the scoreboard as he walks the sideline during South Carolina's game against Flordia on Oct. 14, 2023, at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks lost to the Gators 41-39.

South Carolina looked like it had all the momentum it needed to seal a victory over Florida on Saturday with less than 10 minutes left on the clock.

After holding the Gators to just 47 yards of offense in the third quarter, the Gamecocks opened the fourth period with a three-yard touchdown pass from redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Rattler to junior running back Juju McDowell, whose second score of the game propelled the Gamecocks to a 31-27 advantage. 

On Florida’s next drive, a sack on third down forced Florida to attempt a field goal from 48 yards out, which was batted away by redshirt senior edge rusher Tyreek Johnson, turning the ball over at South Carolina’s 31-yard line. The Gamecocks then marched down the field on a 69-yard drive that finished with a 33-yard scoring pass to graduate student tight end Joshua Simon that increased the lead to 10 points. 

But from that point onward, South Carolina would muster only 31 yards and score 2 more points — coming from a safety when Florida’s redshirt junior quarterback Graham Mertz ran out of the end zone with four seconds left. 

The offensive struggles hit as the Gamecocks capped off a defensive and special teams performance filled with mishaps by allowing the Gators to gain 150 yards and find the end zone twice in the final five minutes of the game, which erased South Carolina’s double-digit advantage. 

“I would say it’s just demoralizing. We come in the building every day, do extra meeting time on our own (and) meet with our coaches for extra time. We spend a lot of time trying to perfect our craft and stuff and try and get better at the things we need to get better at,” Johnson said. “It's just frustrating coming in, after putting all that work in, and just having it slip out of your hands.” 

Consistent and reliable defense has been a struggle for the Gamecocks throughout the season. Heading into the game, South Carolina’s defense was allowing an SEC-high 301.4 passing yards per game and 141.6 rushing yards per game, the third-highest in the conference. 

Even though the Gators’ run game was effectively shut down by the Gamecocks’ defense to just 71 total rushing yards, Mertz and his receivers ran rampant in the passing game, racking up 423 yards through the air. 

Head coach Shane Beamer said some of the team’s defensive errors boiled down to a lack of communication and adjustments to the Gators’ multiple-formation looks. 

“We call pressures, and we don't run them. We play man coverage and didn't do a great job of keeping leverage," Beamer said. "Just in the first half alone, we ran a pressure where the corner came. And for some reason, he stopped, and we gave up an explosive pass because we didn’t continue to run the pressure.” 

South Carolina’s inability to come up with stops came down to a lack of execution in other scenarios, according to Beamer — the defense was prepared to make a play but just was not able to do so.

“At the end of the day, we had some calls that were perfect calls. We ran an edge pressure. If somebody said, ‘Hey, a team is getting ready to run a reverse, what would be the perfect call?’ You would bring both people off the edge. We did it,” Beamer said. “We had a perfect call sometimes, and their guy made the play, and we didn’t.” 

These miscues even spilled into the Gamecocks’ special teams' play, leading to lost points that would prove to be pivotal later on. In the second quarter, an offside penalty committed by South Carolina on an extra point attempt brought Florida to the one-yard line. After the penalty, the Gators elected to go for two instead and converted to tie the game at 21 points apiece. 

In the fourth quarter, a faulty snap on the extra point attempt after Simons' touchdown forced senior kicker Mitch Jeter to improvise a play, but he was tackled well short of the goal line, keeping the Gamecocks from extending the lead to 11 or 12 points. 

South Carolina's issues showed through again on Florida's two late scoring drives, where the Gators converted all three fourth-down scenarios, including two conversions where Florida needed at least 10 yards and got 14 and 26. 

“We’ve got to make a play. (We’re) one play away. Even the games are one play away,” redshirt junior linebacker Debo Williams said. “(We) would’ve, should’ve, could’ve, but we've just got to make a play.” 

Despite the Gamecocks’ inefficiencies on defense, Williams said he believes the team has the ability to turn things around quickly.

“I have great confidence. It’s no different than the game we just played. I know we can win every single game,” Williams said. “We can still finish the season, go undefeated the rest of the way and still have a great season.”