The Florida Gators won the first half on Saturday against the South Carolina Gamecocks 14-6. Two weeks ago, they won the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs 17-0. The real story, however, lies in the other halves of each of those games. For the second time in the last three games, the Gators couldn’t put together 60 minutes of football and as a result now sit at 4-6 after a fifth-straight loss.
There was hope in this one. It wasn’t the hope of coming from behind for a change. No, this time around, there was hope because of the lead the Gators had put together. Florida’s offense looked like it had pulled all of the pages out of Navy’s playbook. There was motion everywhere and handoffs left and right to backs going in every possible direction. And for a few moments it actually seemed to work.
Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor had a season-high 21 carries, a season-high 96 yards, and (you guessed it) a season-high two touchdowns. He looked, as he has for most of the season even when running behind a pieced-together offensive line, every bit the star he was projected to be. In a season where good feelings have become a thing of the past, Taylor is a bright light guiding us to a promising future. He was fun to watch when he was in high school and he’s fun to watch in orange and blue.
But all good things must come to an end and Taylor’s productive first half gave way to a second half during which South Carolina’s defense tightened. Not having to worry much about the Gators’ passing game, the Gamecocks could key on slowing the running game. That defense did its job, shutting out Florida for the final 30 minutes. In reality, the Gators last score came with 10:51 remaining in the second quarter. 19:09 – 14 points; 40:51 – 0 points. The seemingly hot start cooled rapidly.
In the end, you need a passing game to compliment the running game and Florida just didn’t have it. Down to their third quarterback (who might actually be their fourth; no point in wasting Max Staver’s redshirt), the Gators gave Skyler Mornhinweg the start. Mornhinweg managed the offense effectively when it was focused on running the ball. When he was asked to pass, the offense struggled.
A quick look at Mornhinweg’s numbers might show you they weren’t all that bad, and maybe they weren’t. Completing 10 of your 13 attempts is a good thing. Averaging 8.2 yards per attempt isn’t awful either. Look deeper though. Eight of those attempts came in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter when South Carolina had a bend but don’t break mentality. The Gamecocks had taken the lead with 6:43 remaining and wanted to keep it. Basically, play safe and don’t give up the big play.
Mornhinweg did complete five of those final eight attempts, but his incompletions (and even his completions) showed his arm strength may not be enough to consistently sling the ball around the SEC. He wasn’t able to hit receivers in stride and his interception was underthrown. Chalk it up to the fact that Mornhinweg was thrust into a less-than-ideal and completely unexpected situation. Regardless, there’s work to do. With two games remaining, he may be it and there will be more passes.
That’s not to put any of the blame on Mornhinweg. The Gators didn’t lose their sixth game because of the first-time starter (and even player). They lost because there’s only so much the struggling offense can do for so long. They lost because made field goals are a thing of the past. They lost because the planned offense hasn’t been working and the makeshift one had little more than a few moments of success. All together, they just lost.
For a few minutes, I actually thought the Gators had this one. There was a feeling in the air before the game. I can’t explain where that feeling came from and why it was there, but it was present. That feeling was that we could actually win this one. No one expected anything out of the Gators and many picked the Gamecocks to roll. But there was that feeling that just maybe, just win. It was there when the Gators entered the locker room leading 14-6. And it was there when the defense stopped Mike Davis on fourth down in the fourth quarter to hold on to a 14-13 lead. But it would evaporate into exhaustion as South Carolina later claimed the lead and then the win.
Sports are funny in that just when everyone expects something, the opposite happens. They are also funny in that just when you get that feeling that the improbable will happen, it doesn’t and expectations are met. For part of this game, the Gators were going to win and do what many thought they couldn’t. Then regularity set in and they lost, heading back down the path toward 5-7. It was sports being funny again in that painful laughing sort of way.
Before the five game losing streak, the Gators were 4-1 with a 3-0 SEC record. The lone loss came to a surging Miami team and could hardly be considered a bad defeat. Then the streak began. Florida has lost those five in a row to fall to 4-6 (3-5 SEC) and even that Miami team has lost three in row, the latest to Duke. As things get worse, 2014 can’t get here soon enough.
For some, 2014 has become 2015. There are those still screaming for Will Muschamp’s head. They’ll do so for the final two weeks of the 2013 season, into the offseason, and during every game during the 2014 season. They have every right to; fans should be fanatical. After last week’s vote of confidence from Jeremy Foley, those screams may have fallen on deaf ears though. For all we know right now, Muschamp isn’t going anywhere and he will lead the Gators in 2014. Some of us can accept it and some of us just have to deal with it. Whether it was the right decision or not will be told through the story of next season.
For now, the Gators move on to a home game against Georgia Southern. A game that truly is one Florida is supposed to win. Anything could happen and because of that even games like this make us nervous. We don’t know what to expect from the offense and have nightmares of actually losing to one of these so-called “cupcake” opponents.
One week from now, the talk will have shifted to the hated Florida State Seminoles, but we mustn’t go there so soon. Florida has another game to play before the likely undefeated ‘Noles come to Gainesville. That game must be planned for and has to be won. There are must wins and there are those that you just don’t lose. The upcoming game is the latter.