The Gators are off to their worst start since 1979 after dropping to 3-6 with a 28-20 loss to South Carolina. Here is the Gator report card:
Rushing Offense: D
The two touchdowns on the ground look great. Everything else looks bad. The Gators rushing attack was the strength of this offense before a key injury, but now the Gators kinda limp along hoping for a big play to break almost by luck.
Mark Thompson had a nice 31-yard run. Lamical Perine had a 18-yard run. Malik Zaire had a nice 23-yard run. Take those plays away though and the ground game was stunningly ineffective against a South Carolina defensive front that swarmed all over the Florida offensive line. With those three plays discounted, the Gators rushed 19 times for six total yards. Sure, there are plays in there when a scrambling quarterback was thrown for a loss, but it is still a brutal indictment of the Florida running game.
Passing Offense: C
If we are being honest the passing offense really wasn’t that much better. Malik Zaire started the game, going 7-of-14 for just 49 yards. There is no downfield explosion in this offense right now and – to be fair to the quarterbacks – the offensive line isn’t blocking anybody. There were times in this game where it was almost as if the South Carolina defensive linemen had been told the snap count as they were in the backfield that quickly.
Feleipe Franks relieved Zaire and his numbers weren’t much better. He finished 10-of-25 for 174 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. You have to consider that 63 of Franks’ yards came on a broken play pass to Moral Stephens, a player that was stunningly wide open behind the Gamecocks defense given the score and the time left in the game.
South Carolina finished with four sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and nine quarterback hurries, further stamping why it was so hard for Florida to move the ball.
Rushing Defense: F
This is two weeks running where the rushing defense has failed to show up. The Gamecocks are a team that loves to run a balanced offense and the Gators let this happen as South Carolina rolled for 220 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The 47 carries the Gamecocks produced show that the Florida defense just couldn’t get them off of the field. A.J. Turner rushed 22 times for 136 yards and somehow didn’t get a touchdown, while quarterback Jake Bentley had two of the Gamecocks four rushing scores.
Passing Defense: B-
The Florida passing defense was kinda hit or miss, but when they hit they were able to turn the Gamecocks over and keep the game far closer than it should have been when looking purely at yardage. Bentley had one of his worst games as the South Carolina quarterback as he completed 19-of-29 for 249 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
When Bentley was good he was able to move the Gamecocks at will, but he threw three terrible passes for interceptions that no excuse will cover. These balls weren’t tipped and most of the time he wasn’t really under pressure, he just was gifting passes to the Florida defensive backs. In fairness to those secondary players they, took full advantage of the gifts, swooping the passes out of the air and giving the Gators good field position. Without those mistakes though, the score would have been very different.
Special Teams: D
Zero yards combined on punt and kick returns is not ideal, but the Gators kicking unit was far from the biggest problem on Saturday. Kicker Eddy Pineiro had a perfect day as he hit two extra points and two field goals for a total of eight points.
The biggest special teams play though came in the return game. Brandon Powell tried to return a punt from his own 13-yard line before fumbling the ball back to the Gamecocks as Javon Charleston dived on the loose ball. Thankfully the defense intercepted Bentley on the very next play, but a team as thin as this cannot afford to give bonus scoring opportunities away.
There is an interesting comparison here. I fully believe that Randy Shannon is doing the best he can, but with as many as 30 scholarship players missing through injury or suspension his hands are tied. It is ironic that former Gator head coach Will Muschamp is winning with South Carolina in the way that this Florida squad must attempt to win games. This was something of an outlier as the Gamecocks made far more mistakes than usual and were not the team that plays smart football and doesn’t beat themselves.
Shannon now has more quarterback issues to address this week with Malik Zaire down and listed as day-to-day. It is not a job I would want at the moment given all the issues surrounding the program.