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The No. 3 Gators entered their home opener on Saturday afternoon looking for a more well-rounded performance after their season opener last week against Ole Miss saw both teams eclipse 600 yards of offense.
Mission accomplished. While there were still plenty of mistakes, UF’s defense pulled its weight, and the Gators defeated South Carolina (0-2), 38-24, on an overcast day in the Swamp.
Here is our Instant Analysis.
It Was Over When: As they did last week, the Gators won this game in the final few minutes of the first half and the first few minutes of the second half. Evan McPherson capped a 13-play, 54-yard drive with a 26-yard field goal with 3:30 left in the second quarter. Rather than sticking to their running game that enjoyed a bunch of success in the opening half and burning the clock, the Gamecocks opted to be aggressive and try to put points on the board before the half. It backfired, as Florida forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at its own 48 with 3:08 to go.
Quarterback Kyle Trask keyed the ensuing drive with a 19-yard run down to the South Carolina 16 on an option play. Two plays later, he finished it off with a four-yard scoring strike to Kyle Pitts to extend the lead to 24-14.
The Gamecocks’ final drive before the half went nowhere.
The Gators took advantage of a Gamecocks’ fumble and scored a touchdown on their second possession of the second half to make it a three-score game. South Carolina rallied in the second half, but it was too little, too late.
They Stole the Show: Trask continued his blistering start to this season, completing 21 of 29 throws for 268 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. He did a good job of moving around in the pocket to avoid pressure and finding the open receivers.
South Carolina put just about everybody on Pitts, including their top cornerback, Israel Mukuamu. Nothing worked in the first half. Pitts finished with four catches for 57 yards and two scores. His 12 career touchdown grabs tie him for first in program history for a tight end.
Florida put more of an emphasis on the running game early on, and Dameon Pierce delivered, rushing nine times for 51 yards and a touchdown. He displayed his signature power and knocked a defender’s helmet off on the first drive of the game.
Redshirt freshman receiver Trent Whittemore made a sensational leaping grab in the first quarter and caught his first career touchdown in the third quarter.
Kadarius Toney continued to show significant signs of progress with his route-running and ability to be an every-down receiver. He caught six passes for 86 yards, including a 57-yard score on a slant late in the third quarter.
For South Carolina, running back Kevin Harris had a good day, running for 100 yards and a score on 22 carries. He also caught a touchdown.
Defensively for UF, Zachary Carter made 1.5 sacks, and Ventrell Miller enjoyed another nice game with six stops and a fumble recovery.
The Stats Don’t Lie: Florida outgained South Carolina 348-329, including 268-212 through the air. The Gators averaged 6.6 yards per play, while the Gamecocks averaged just four yards per play. UF converted four of nine third downs, while South Carolina converted just six of 17.
Florida recorded four sacks and six tackles for loss, while South Carolina recorded two and five, respectively.
Oh What A Play: UF faced a second-and-7 at the Gamecocks’ 39-yard line on its second possession of the game. Trask avoided pressure and fired a dart toward a blanketed Whittemore on a deep crossing route. Whittemore skied into the air, caught the ball and held onto it while getting hit by South Carolina’s Jaylin Dickerson for a 25-yard reception. Trask connected with Pitts on a 14-yard touchdown on the next play.
It took a perfect throw and a perfect catch for that pass to not end up as an incompletion or an interception, and that’s exactly what the Gators got. It was the catch of the year so far.
These Matchups Proved Key: The Gators won this game in large part due to their receivers regularly beating man coverage and giving Trask huge windows to throw into. Nine different receivers caught passes. The Gamecocks ranked 12th in the league in passing defense last season, and Trask picked them apart.
For the second week in a row, Florida’s offensive line won its matchup. UF’s running backs had plenty of running room and Trask was well-protected for most of the game.
On the other side of the ball, UF’s defensive backs played much tighter coverage than they did a week ago and limited the Gamecocks’ passing game. They also benefited from several dropped passes.
However, the front-7 got pushed around a bit, as South Carolina rushed for just 89 yards against Tennessee last week. They had plenty of running room while the game was still close and they had the luxury of running the ball. The Gators also struggled with tackling.
Up Next: The Gators (2-0) will face their first ranked opponent of the season, as they travel to College Station to take on No. 13 Texas A&M (1-0) next Saturday. The start time and television assignment will be announced late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.