Florida Gators growl back in second half to secure 7th win of season

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 10: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson #23 of the Florida Gators asks the crowd for noise during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 10, 2018 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 10: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson #23 of the Florida Gators asks the crowd for noise during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 10, 2018 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

I’m not going to lie, the Florida Gators definitely surprised me on Saturday afternoon. On a day that saw the Gators start out lifeless, UF battled back from a 17-point second half deficit to take down South Carolina 35-31 in the Swamp. This team finally found their grit and toughness that seemed lost since earlier this season. I mean, Florida looked cooked, and then somehow woke up from another napping start.

“If you don’t think we’re going to win, stay in the locker room”— an emotional Dan Mullen said after the game that this was the message he relayed to his team at halftime.

Mullen must have finally found a way to fire the Gators up because this type of fight did not exist in last week’s sorry exhibit of the season. But against South Carolina, Florida stepped up and just chipped away until low and behold— Florida got back in the win column for the first time in almost a month.

And the beautiful thing about this is— Feleipe Franks and the UF offense were the culprit of the regroup and picked up the defense’s failures throughout the first half.

The afternoon started out miserable for Florida, with Jake Bentley leading the Gamecocks on two consecutive charges down the field. It was much of the same that we saw from UF over the previous six quarters against Georgia and Missouri, with numerous missed tackles and blown assignments leading to wide open Gamecocks. It was entirely too easy for Bentley and company. This had the makings of another painful blowout in the Swamp. Two picture perfect series by Bentley and the Gamecocks jumpstarted an early 14-0 lead.

Nearing the end of an awful first period, Kadarius Toney would ignite the first UF scoring drive with a 14-yard run, and from there Lamical Perine would eat a little. Perine would finish off a 13-play, 75-yard drive to answer and pull UF within 14-7 early in the second quarter.

A defensive three-and-out would follow up that possession, and from there, two electric plays from Toney followed by big runs by Jordan Scarlet for 16-yards and then 21-yards would put the Gators within the red zone. Franks would score on a 10-yard TD run to bring this to a tied-up game at 14-14.

And then, it looked like UF was going to fold yet again.

Mon Denson, A.J. Turner, and Rico Dowdle would not be denied on South Carolina’s next drive, shredding through more arm tackles and moving the Gamecocks down the field at will. Bentley would finish the drive off gracing the goal line and giving the Gamecocks the 21-14 advantage going into the half.

You got the feeling that Florida was in it, but with this team, especially as of late, it’s just not looking too promising once again.

Florida would get the football first to start the second half. Behind solid protection and a nice roll out of the pocket from Franks, he found Tyrie Cleveland for a 19-yard completion. Then, Scarlet would break loose on a 25-yard scamper. These highlights would lead the Gators on an opening second half drive. Florida’s drive was halted at the 24, but that’s well within the near-automatic Eddy Pineiro’s range. Only this time— Pineiro did not deliver, and the Gators came away with nothing.

Then, things got even worse for Florida. After the UF defense made a stop, Toney would be the deep man on to receive the punt, and the playmaker did everything but that this time, muffing the catch and giving the Gamecocks the football deep into UF territory. This basically gift wrapped 3 more points for South Carolina and Florida was now down 24-14.

There was nothing doing on the following UF possession, but Tommy Townsend and the UF punt team did manage to pin South Carolina within their own 10-yard line to start their next possession. It didn’t take long for Bentley to find his do-it-all talent Deebo Samuel on a crossing pattern with Florida once again confused and out of position on the play. Samuel would catch Bentley’s pass in stride and bust loose for 89-yards on the play, and although C.J. Henderson would catch Samuel from behind, the damage had been done. Two plays later, Dowdle would cross the sticks and extend the Gamecocks lead to 31-14, and it looked like game, set, match once more for the reeling Florida Gators.

This team struggles putting up points, and Florida is by no means a come-from-behind team. Just look at the last two weeks when Florida was blown off the field once they were dug into a deep hole. Well, somehow, someway, this story has a different ending.

Florida would score touchdowns on their next three possessions, dominating the final minutes of the third quarter and the entire fourth. Perine and Scarlet were animals (Gators to be exact) with the football, don’t get me wrong. But you have to give the criticized Franks some of this pub here. Franks numbers certainly weren’t staggering, as he passed for 167 yards and a TD, and rushed for 34-yards and another, and his showing was far from perfect. But in the final 16 minutes, Franks made the plays needed to pull off this comeback, and the offense finally received some help from their defense that had been non-existent over the last few weeks.

Franks would go 6-for-7 for 80 yards over the last three possessions with each resulting in 7 points. Franks only TD pass would go to Toney in the slot, as he gave his best effort to make up for his miscue earlier in the half by creating the spark to start the rally.

After Toney’s score would make it 31-21, the UF defense seemed to feed off of the energy that the offense provided. Florida’s defense looked lethargic for the better part of 3 quarters, and then all of a sudden, only allowed one first down in the fourth quarter. It’s like they were just waiting for the offense to make a move.

Toney, Scarlet, and Perine would cap this day off for Florida as on the final two drives alone as the trio rushed for over 100 yards combined. Perine would score from 23-yards out and pull the Gators to within 31-28, and then Franks would score the final TD with his legs to give Florida their first lead at 35-31 and that would be all they needed.

Henderson would finally get the best of Bentley, intercepting his pass to finish the comeback and close this one out.

Franks rushed to the end-zone with his index finger over his mouth and asked the fanbase to shush their boos. I’m certainly happy to see Franks come away with a fairly successful Saturday, but at the end of the day, he’s had his opportunities and hasn’t delivered on the big stage. But for now, we can enjoy this win and move along to another week.

Between Perine, Scarlet, Toney, and a little Franks sprinkled in— the Gators rushed for nearly 400 yards against the Gamecocks. And that game plan to let Florida’s talented backfield and Toney carry this team in the second half, along with UF’s defense finally showing some life, was ultimately the difference in this game.

Florida rode their strength to victory, something that has been obviously missing in the last two games.

The Gators are clearly a momentum team, and now that has swung back into their favor. A tune-up game against Idaho comes next, and then a trip to arch-rival Florida State follows to conclude the regular season. With the way the things are rounding into form heading into the final stretch of the season, the writing is on the wall for a 9-3 finish to the regular season and a great bounce back year for this program. It’s only up to the Gators now how they perform and what they will do with that opportunity.