Gators Rally to Pluck Gamecocks, 41-39, In SEC East Battle

Dick Cox

October 17, 2023 at 12:30 pm.

Columbia, S.C. – The Florida Gators, trailing 37-27 with 4:40 to play, put on a frantic rally behind their quarterback Graham Mertz’s two touchdown passes to stun the South Carolina Gamecocks in front of a sellout Homecoming crowd of 79,247 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The Gamecocks looked to take control of the back-and-forth game with 9:11 remaining in the fourth quarter when quarterback Spencer Rattler passed 33 yards to Joshua Simon for a touchdown and a double-digit lead. The PAT was botched and that turned out to be a big play in the game. Rattler finished the game with another great performance completing 23 of 30 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

The story of the game was yet another poor performance turned in by the Gamecock defense. Florida quarterback, Mertz, had a career day passing 30-48-0 for 423 yards and three touchdowns. This is the second time in a row this season that an SEC visiting quarterback has come to South Carolina and had a career-high passing game for over 400 yards.

The Gamecocks not only could not cover the Florida receivers, but they also had an overabundance of missed tackles during the game. The Gators converted three 4th down and long plays in the final five minutes of the game on their way to two touchdowns.

After the game, USC Head Coach Shane Beamer was not happy with the Gamecock defense.

“Execute, do your job,” Beamer said. “Just freaking do your job. The main problem is that we call pressures and we don’t run them. In the first half alone, we ran a pressure where the corner came, and for some reason, he stopped and we gave up an explosive pass because we didn’t continue to run the pressure. We had another pressure call where we didn’t run it in the first half and had a holding penalty in the secondary.

“We talked to our guys about not jumping around the quarterback. We got in, jumped and got beat on a pump fake. We had an offsides in the first half, so just did not play clean football.”

The South Carolina special teams, which have always been strong points on Beamer coached teams, were not very special against the Gators. Gamecock special teams had five miscues that resulted in a negative way. The opening kickoff by Carolina was short and not covered very well which lead to good field position for Florida on their first touchdown drive. Carolina jumped offside on a Gator extra point and Florida took the penalty and scored a two-point conversion on the next play. Gamecock preseason All-American punter Kia Kroeger shanked two punts. One of the punts led to a Florida field goal just before halftime, while the second punt gave the Gators excellent field position on their game-winning touchdown drive. Kroeger also fumbled a hold on a missed extra point attempt that could have put South Carolina up by two touchdowns. Special teams did have a big play in the fourth quarter with a blocked field goal from Tyreek Johnson that kept the team ahead by three points.

The South Carolina offense put Carolina in position to win all night long. Rattler had one of his most productive performances of the season going 23 for 30 passing for 313 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Mario Anderson recorded 98 yards, his third consecutive game rushing for at least 80 yards. Xavier Legette had 110 receiving yards headlined by a highlight-reel leaping grab on a 46-yard deep pass. Trey Knox had his best game as a Gamecock with 10 catches for 50 yards and a touchdown.

Next Saturday South Carolina travels to Missouri to take on the No. 25 Tigers in the battle for the Mayor’s Cup, while the Florida Gators have an open date.

Coach’s post-game report

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