COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) — A fourth-quarter comeback would come just a few plays short for the South Carolina football team Saturday afternoon, as it lost at home to No. 11/10 Florida, 24-14. Perry Orth and Pharoh Cooper each threw touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the Gamecocks, who now move to 3-7 overall and 1-7 in the SEC.
Florida (9-1, 7-1 SEC) opened the scoring with a touchdown with two minutes left to go in the first quarter. In total, it was a 15-play, 87-yard odyssey for the Gators, capped by a three-yard dive from Jordan Cronkrite. Florida used a trio of third-down conversions and a key fourth-down conversion in South Carolina territory to keep the scoring drive alive, along with five completions for 73 yards from Treon Harris. The 15 plays marked the longest touchdown drive allowed by Carolina so far this season
After a three-and-out from the Gamecocks, Florida put up another long drive with a touchdown to cap it off. As it had done throughout the half, Florida used efficient short-yardage pickups on first down to create manageable conversions and stay on the field. It would be one big play, though, that would lead to the visitor’s second touchdown.
A sack from Gerald Dixon put the Gators back at the Carolina 41 on 3rd down with 11 yards to pick up. Harris looked downfield on the next play, and cornerback Chris Lammons would close on a 50-50 ball over the middle, but Cronkrite came away with the pass off the collision and put the visitors ahead 14-0 with just over eight minutes to go in the half.
The Gators threatened to score again late in the second quarter, as Jalen Tabor stepped in front of a hitch route for an interception at the South Carolina 18. A big pass completion to DeAndre Goolsby set the team up at the four-yard line, but the South Carolina defense held tough. On third-and-goal, Harris was flushed to the right and took a shot in the end zone, but Spur T.J. Gurley made a leaping interception to keep it a two-score game going into halftime. It was the senior’s third career pick, first of the season.
Carolina picked up another turnover right out of the gate in the second half, as Gerald Dixon continued his strong day with an interception. On first down, Maquavius Lewis came off the edge and caught Harris’ elbow as he went to pass. The ball pinged around the line of scrimmage before being collected by Dixon for his first career pick.
Florida’s defense remained stout in it’s own right, though, and the Gamecocks’ three total drives in the third quarter ended with a total of negative nine yards. The Gators would go for 106 yards for the quarter, but came away with only a field goal on their two drives.
Needing to break into the scoring column as quick as possible, the Gamecocks pulled out some “trickeration” to open the scoring in the fourth quarter. Three straight completions from Perry Orth got the home side into Florida territory, and Carolina soon found itself in the red zone with a first down.
The Gamecocks lined up four receivers on the left side, with Pharoh Cooper taking the step-back pass from Orth. After some blocking gave the junior receiver a “pocket”, he would find his quarterback on the opposite side of the field with a perfect over-the-shoulder pass and a 17-yard touchdown to make it a 17-7 game after a 64-yard drive. It was Orth’s first career reception, and Cooper’s fourth career pass (first of the season).
The defense would feed off a reenergized Williams-Brice crowd, and Kelsey Griffin would force a three-and-out thanks to sacks on first and second down to force a quick punt from Florida.
Orth would stay in his groove as the offense took the field again. He hit Matrick Belton over the middle for 25 yards, then went for 12 more to Jerell Adams to get back into Florida territory. After a penalty moved the ball up to the 38, Orth returned the favor to Cooper, lofting in a touchdown over the middle to make it a 17-14 game with five minutes to go in the game.
Florida would provide a strong answer to the comeback hopes, using a quick-strike scoring drive to put the game out of reach on the very next drive. Facing a third-and-eight at their own 46, the Gators’ Kelvin Taylor ran a counter play up the middle for 53 yards. He followed it with a one-yard dive for the touchdown and a 24-14 advantage for Florida with two minutes to play, sealing the win.
Florida’s defense held Carolina to -5 yards over a five-drive stretch that spanned the second drive of the second quarter until the start of the fourth quarter. While the Gators only scored three points of their own in that stretch, they held the ball for 17 minutes and 50 seconds to keep a comeback-minded Carolina offense off the field.
The Gators enjoyed a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession, holding on to the ball for 39:45. The advantage came largely due to the visitor’s sizable advantage on the ground, racking up 148 yards on 43 carries compared to just 21 yards rushing on 23 carries for Carolina. Florida also converted 11 of 19 third downs (57.9 percent) and ran 28 more plays in the game.
•Carolina’s 14 fourth-quarter points were the most points scored in the final quarter by the team this season.
•Senior tight end Jerell Adams tied his career-high with four catches for 46 yards. His four catches also led the team.
•Junior linebacker T.J. Holloman led the team with eight tackles. Gerald Dixon led the defense up front with six tackles, a sack, two tackles-for-loss and the interception.
•Junior punter Sean Kelly had another stellar performance, punting six times with an average of 46.7 yards and a long of 69. He had three punts downed inside the 20.
•The Gamecocks featured a new helmet design for the first time since 2004, when the team wore black helmets. Black jerseys with black pants were worn for the second-consecutive home game.
Quoting Interim Head Coach Shawn Elliott
“This has been the story of our football team the last few weeks. We don’t start off very quick, but we finish strong and today wasn’t any different other than the fact that I thought our defense played very well in the first half and they kept us in the ball game. They made a couple of mistakes here and there in the first half but they played a tremendous game I thought. It was unfortunate with that third-down play there at the end. Offensively today we were just dominated by a really good defense and a really good coaching staff that had a good game plan. They were just ready to shut us down. It was no secret they have great players and they have great players up front. They have as good as skill position players in the secondary. We knew all that. We knew it was a tall task going in. But I never felt it was going to be the way it was starting out. It was as if we were off rhythm so to speak. Quarterback and our first half play weren’t very good. Early on play we couldn’t get any push to run the football. Backs couldn’t make any headway running. We had trouble getting guys open. That continued until about the fourth quarter. I don’t know if they relaxed a little bit but we had a play here and there and got some momentum going our way and carried it down there. Just like I had the past couple of games I thought we had a chance to take the last drive down there and have the game winning score. But as it has turned out the last two weeks we didn’t have the juice to finish and win the football game.”
The Gamecocks will welcome in cross-state opponent The Citadel next Saturday, Nov. 21. It will be a noon kickoff, with the game to air on the SEC alternate channel. The game will be the 51st all-time between the two programs, with the Gamecocks ahead in the series 40-7-3.