Florida vs. South Carolina: 10 Things We Learned in Gators' Loss
Elliott Fry's four field goals were just enough on Saturday for No. 10 South Carolina to fend off Florida, 19-14, in Columbia.
The scrappy Gators, missing seven starters and playing the game with their third-string quarterback, led throughout the first half behind the legs of running back Kelvin Taylor.
However, things changed in the second half when the Gamecocks loaded up extra defenders in the box to make Florida throw the ball with Skyler Mornhinweg. The strategy worked for South Carolina, and the Gators were unable to sustain any offensive success in the second half.
The loss drops Florida to 4-6 on the season. It is the Gators' fifth straight loss, and they head home for the final two weeks of the season with games against Georgia Southern and No. 2 Florida State.
Here are 10 things we learned about the Gators in Saturday's loss to South Carolina.
The Gators Actually Miss Jeff Driskel
When Jeff Driskel went down an injury earlier this season, Florida fans weren't too concerned. Driskel was the reason for Florida's issues on offense, many felt.
Now, two months and a five-game losing streak later, most around the Florida program realize there are far more issues offensively than Driskel.
The Gators lack consistent production from the wide receiver position, and the offensive line has had its share of issues. Tyler Murphy and freshman Mornhinweg have struggled at the quarterback position since Driskel went down.
How many games would the Gators have won if Driskel were still playing? That is impossible to answer, but it's tough to believe Florida would be this inept if Driskel was behind center.
Skyler Mornhinweg Is Just Not Ready
After watching the freshman play against South Carolina, it's tough to imagine Mornhinweg ever succeeding with the Gators. And no, that is not an indictment on his ability, but more about the coaches' lack of trust in him.
The son of an established NFL coach, Mornhinweg has a good grasp of the game and was a solid recruit coming out of high school. So why not have more faith in him and allow him to throw the ball?
Yes, Mornhinweg's fourth-quarter interception was a bad decision, but the Gators may not have been in that position had they not been so one-dimensional throughout the game.
If you trust the kid enough to be your third-string quarterback, then why not let him play?
Mornhinweg definitely isn't ready to be a starter at the college level, but he has little help and support around him at the moment.
Offensive Coaching Was Questionable
Since Brent Pease took over as offensive coordinator before last season, the Gators have struggled and remained predictable on offense.
That trend continued in Saturday's loss at South Carolina.
With a first-time starter at quarterback, Pease's strategy was to run, run, run and run some more. While building a running game around an inexperienced quarterback is an ideal strategy, you have to eventually throw the football. Pease looked unwilling to do that until the last drive on Saturday.
The Gators knew all week that Mornhinweg may start, yet they seemed unprepared. Why not build a short passing game for Mornhinweg, where he focused on three-step drops and getting the ball out of his hands?
Such a strategy would have opened up more holes for a running game that was dominant in the first half against South Carolina. The reason that running game disappeared in the second half falls squarely on the shoulders of Pease.
Solomon Patton Was Invisible
The senior wide receiver was invisible in Saturday's loss. Solomon Patton caught just one pass for four yards on the night.
But it wasn't his fault.
The Gators' best receiver was essentially put on the shelf by his own coaching staff. Instead of running some slip screens or smoke routes to Patton, the Gators avoided dialing up plays to get the ball in his hands.
Getting Patton the ball in space would have been a tremendous boost for Mornhinweg and the entire offense.
Kelvin Taylor Came to Play
The son of former Florida and NFL legend Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor had his best career game against the Gamecocks.
Taylor ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He finished the game with 96 yards on 21 carries, but he was a nonfactor in the second half due to the lack of a passing game.
Taylor's workload has gradually increased since the LSU game on October 12. Expect that to continue in the coming weeks. Taylor has tremendous vision and never goes down on initial contact. He and Mack Brown are a good pair of backs for Florida going forward.
Defense Is Still Outstanding
The Gators lost several talented players to the NFL after the 2012 season. Yet, early this season, the Gators were arguably the nation's top defense.
Then the injuries hit.
The unit's top player, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, went down in September. The Gators continued to play well on defense. Then, the Gators lost their top linebacker, Antonio Morrison.
Several other top players have been in and out of the lineup all season. However, Florida continues to get the job done on defense.
Give credit to head coach Will Muschamp. Regardless of who goes down for the Gators, he has them ready to play. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw struggled throughout Saturday's game when Muschamp's strategy was to keep Shaw in the pocket and not allow him to scramble.
Vernon Hargreaves Continues to Impress
The star freshman was his usual terrific self against the Gamecocks. Vernon Hargreaves played solid coverage all night against South Carolina's group of underrated receivers.
Hargreaves also shows a willingness to make plays in the running game.
Hargreaves is having an outstanding freshman season and is already, arguably, Florida's top defensive back. He leads the team in interceptions, is fun to watch and gets better every week.
Now the Gators should get Hargreaves more involved in the return game where he could make a big difference.
Will Muschamp Should Not Be on the Hot Seat
Muschamp in his third year as Florida's head coach. In his first year, the Gators were an underwhelming 7-6. However, former coach Urban Meyer left at a good time and Muschamp didn't exactly have a loaded team.
In 2012, Muschamp had the Gators at 11-2 and playing in the Sugar Bowl. His defense returned only four full-time starters in 2013, and yet he had the nation's fifth-ranked defense entering Saturday night's game.
Three years isn't enough to say Muschamp isn't capable of being an excellent head coach. He has built a tremendous defense, and now he must get the offense to play at that level.
He deserves at least another year, without question, to see how far he can take Florida. If the Gators have a repeat of this season one year from now, then, yes, it may be time to move on.
However, Muschamp Must Make Staff Changes
Three years isn't enough to say Muschamp shouldn't be head coach, but two years is enough to determine the Gators must make staff changes on offense.
You can blame the lack of talent on offense, or the extensive injuries, but you're still left with the same predictable, unimaginative play-calling by Pease.
The Gators were short-handed on offense against a good South Carolina team. In situations like this, you must take chances, keep the defense off-balance and change the way you typically do things.
Pease hasn't shown an ability to do that since coming to Florida. Five straight losses for the first time since 1979 is enough of a reason for Muschamp to overhaul his offensive coaching staff.
Ron Zook didn't even lose five in a row.
Florida Can Still Impact the National Championship Game
Yes, you read that right. The 4-6 Gators can still impact the BCS National Championship Game.
As it currently stands, No. 1 Alabama would meet No. 2 Florida State. Alabama still has to play Auburn and the SEC title game. Florida State must come to the Swamp.
If the Gators could beat their bitter longtime rival, the Seminoles would not be playing in the national title game.
That would not only make the Gators bowl-eligible, presuming they beat Georgia Southern next week, but it would also end their regular season on a positive note.
And imagine the difference it could make in recruiting. The season is far from over for the Gators.