GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Austin Appleby threw two touchdown passes, Jordan Scarlett ran for a career-high 134 yards and No. 22 Florida beat South Carolina and former coach Will Muschamp 20-7 Saturday, moving closer to clinching the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
The banged-up Gators (7-2, 5-2) can secure a spot in the league title game by winning at 19th-ranked LSU next week. It might be a long shot given Florida’s injury situation.
Coach Jim McElwain lost nine starters the last two weeks, including four against the Gamecocks (5-5, 3-5). Safety Marcus Maye (shoulder), defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (ankle), center Tyler Jordan (ankle) and right tackle David Sharpe (leg) all left the game and did not return.
Florida did enough to overcome the injuries.
Appleby found C’yontai Lewis for a 6-yard score in the first quarter and then floated a perfect pass to Ahmad Fulwood in the corner of the end zone in the second. Eddy Pineiro’s two field goals in the third, including a 54-yarder, gave the Gators some breathing room.
Florida’s defense did the rest, rebounding nicely from a 31-10 loss at Arkansas last week.
Muschamp didn’t have the players to keep pace.
Many thought Florida’s former coach would pull off an upset in his return to Gainesville . Instead, the Gamecocks were shut out until scoring with 6:53 left.
The loss snapped South Carolina’s three-game winning streak.
Freshman quarterback Jake Bentley, who played so well in those victories, struggled in his first road start. Bentley completed 18 of 33 passes for 213 yards, with an interception and a fumble.
Appleby was much more efficient. The former Purdue starter, filling in for injured Luke Del Rio, was 17-of-21 passing for 201 yards. He threw an interception in the third quarter, but otherwise played mistake-free football.
He got plenty of help from Scarlett, who topped the century mark for the second time this season and seemingly distanced himself from what had been a crowded backfield.
South Carolina: Although the Gamecocks didn’t have much offensive success, it’s clear Muschamp has some young players to build around. Bentley, running back Rico Dowdle and receiver Bryan Edwards – all freshmen – should be a solid nucleus for the next few years.
Florida: The Gators have endured their share of injures the last two weeks, losing five defensive starters and four on the offensive side of the ball. Some of them won’t be back for next week’s all-important game at LSU, leaving Florida to test its depth on the road.
South Carolina: After playing five consecutive games at Williams-Brice Stadium before traveling to Florida, the Gamecocks return home to face Western Carolina next Saturday. South Carolina should become bowl-eligible against the Catamounts, a team from the Football Championship Subdivision.
Florida: Plays at LSU next Saturday, a game postponed because of Hurricane Matthew in and later moved from Gainesville to Baton Rouge . The Gators were initially slated to host Presbyterian that day.
(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)