At least this time they competed.
But in the end, the same familiar culprits – horrendously bad coaching and an array of injuries and attrition – led to the Florida Gators losing again, this time 28-20 at South Carolina.
The refusal to quit – particularly after last week’s uninspired no-show at Missouri – was encouraging. The Gators kept hanging around, cutting a double-digit deficit to a one-possession game, then getting the ball back with a chance to tie in the closing minutes. But as was the case in one-score losses to LSU and Texas A&M when they had a chance in the end, quarterback Feleipe Franks could not bring them back. His tipped interception in the final two minutes sealed the win for the Gamecocks.
That Franks was in the game was because of yet another injury, this one a leg injury to starting quarterback Malik Zaire when he appeared to be starting to find a rhythm. He was injured at the end of a terrific run on a quarterback draw. He finished 7-of-14 for 49 yards and rushed for another 21 yards.
The amount of injuries and general attrition – and the impact it has had on the Gators – is astounding. After losing top receiver Antonio Callaway and top running back Jordan Scarlett to season-long suspensions, the Gators have since lost quarterback Luke Del Rio, emerging running back Malik Davis and starting left guard Brett Heggie for the season to injuries; in addition, there’s wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, who tries to play but obviously still is hurt. Then Zaire and center T. J. McCoy went down. The patchwork line was badly overmatched and beaten much of the day.
But the coaching continues to be stunningly bad. For the third consecutive game, the Gators had double-digit penalties (10-56), often for silly substitution infractions. How can that be happening? Franks, who entered the game when Zaire was injured, obviously has not developed at all, still locking into receivers on virtually every called pass play. In fairness, he was victimized by some drops, but still finished just 10-of-25 for 174 yards. Like the Tennessee game, his one big play was a broken play in which he scrambled around and heaved it as far as he could to a wide-open receiver near the goal line.
Still, the bad coaching is most exemplified in play-calling. Saturday was a microcosm of the bizarre, head-scratching play-calling that has been a staple of the Jim McElwain-Doug Nussmeier era.
A prime example: With 9:45 to play in the second quarter and trailing 14-3, the Gators went to a base I formation, something they rarely show on tape. They ran a basic isolation play, handed off to Mark Thompson, pulled the backside guard. Say what you want about Will Muschamp, few prepare a defense better. But because Florida hadn’t shown the look, the Gamecocks were unprepared. The result was that Thompson ripped off a 31-yard run, one of the longest plays of the day for Florida.
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