2011 Florida Gators Football: Grading the Gators Versus South Carolina
Has there been a more hard-luck college football team this year than the Florida Gators?
My guess is that there hasn't.
Toss out being on the wrong end of blowouts to the nation's two best teams (LSU and Alabama), and what you have for UF, aside from five victories, are three losses that very well could have - and some would argue should have - been wins.
The Gators did themselves in by forgetting how to catch punts in a 17-6 defeat at defending BCS national champion Auburn, and in 24-20 and 17-12 losses to Georgia and South Carolina, respectively, quite simply, Florida didn't finish.
But, fear not, Gator fans. This is a young team, possibly the youngest in the powerful Southeastern Conference. And in all cases, with youth comes growing pains.
So, before you start sounding like Kentucky fans at the beginning of each November by focusing solely on basketball season, remember there are three football games left, including a bowl. And Florida is capable of winning all three.
For now, here is a look at the report card from last Saturday's road loss to the Gamecocks.
Because John Brantley remains slowed (some might say hobbled) by an ankle injury suffered on Oct. 1 against Alabama, UF offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has had his unit run most of its plays out of a pistol formation. It was that kind of offense that did wonders for Colin Kaepernick last season at Nevada.
Against South Carolina, Brantley finished a modest 13-of-21 for 119 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Seven of Brantley's 13 completions went to the tight ends, while tailback Chris Rainey collected three others.
So, Florida didn't look downfield very much.
It's tough to really offer a grade here because Brantley did fine for what he was asked to do. He just wasn't asked to do much more than be a game manager. There wasn't much good and wasn't much bad.
That kept UF in the contest, but it didn't deliver a win.
Here is some good news for Gator fans: With Furman up next, look for Brantley to spend a lot of the contest on the sidelines while freshmen Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel take the majority of the snaps. And that means Brantley should be healthier than he has been in nearly two months when Florida State comes calling in a couple of weeks.
Brissett saw limited action against the Gamecocks, and his only pass attempt fell incomplete. He did have one carry that went two yards for a touchdown, the second week in a row he has rushed for a score.
Against South Carolina, Chris Rainey certainly didn't look like a player who was forced to miss the previous week's victory against Vanderbilt with an injury.
The slippery senior ran all over the Gamecocks, picking up 132 yards on 17 carries (7.8 ypc). He did so using his straight-on speed, as well as a few beautiful spin moves.
Additionally, Rainey caught three passes for 30 yards, second on the team only to tight end Jordan Reed in each category.
After running for more than 100 yards a week early against Vanderbilt, Jeff Demps had a quiet afternoon versus the Gamecocks.
College football's fastest player finished the contest with nine carries for 33 yards (3.7 ypc) and no receptions.
Finishing up the unit as a whole, Trey Burton had one rush for five yards.
If there is one knock, it is that no one found the end zone.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Senior Deonte Thompson was the only receiver to catch a pass against the Gamecocks, and he hauled in three for 16 yards. Those numbers are even slightly skewed, as one of his receptions went for 13 yards.
That said, the receivers blocked well downfield for tailback Chris Rainey. Yes, there aren't statistics for that, but it played a big role in Rainey's big day.
Tight ends Jordan Reed and A.C. Leonard were targeted often by Brantley.
Reed continued what has been a brilliant season with team-highs in catches (five) and receiving yardage (62). A true freshman from the Jacksonville area, Leonard caught two passes for 11 yards. His role continues to expand since Reed's former backup, Gerald Christian, announced his intentions to transfer elsewhere.
Reed and Leonard also blocked well for Rainey.
Facing arguably the nation's best defensive line, Florida's offensive line had a pretty good day.
First, the bad.
The Gator blockers allowed three sacks totalling 25 yards. In fairness, John Brantley has never been the most fleet of quarterbacks, and since injuring his ankle just before halftime of the Alabama game, he has been The Statue of Brantley. Also, one of the sacks was to cornerback Stephon Gilmore, meaning he likely was the responsibility of a back or tight end.
Now, the good news.
If you take away the negative-28 yards Brantley accrued, the Gators rushed for 170 yards on 29 rushes, nearly six yards-a-carry. The line gave Chris Rainey, in particular, holes to burst through early before doing his thing once he got to the second level.
It wasn't a bad afternoon, but it also wasn't a great one for the Gator defensive line.
Senior Jaye Howard led the way with four tackles, including one for the loss of half-a-yard. Junior Omar Hunter, whose usual role is to occupy blockers so others make plays, also finished with four tackles.
Sophomores Dominique Easley (four tackles, one quarterback hurry), Ronald Powell (four tackles, including one for the loss of a yard) and Sharrif Floyd (three tackles) also had productive games.
Earl Okine, playing a very limited number of snaps, recorded a first-quarter tackle of South Carolina tailback Brandon Wilds, and senior end William Green added an assist.
As a team, South Carolina rushed for 215 yards on 52 carries (4.1 ypc). Wilds led the way with 120 yards on 29 carries (4.1 ypc), but it was quarterback Connor Shaw who may have done the most damage.
After a week surrounded by speculation as to whether he would be ready to play, Shaw rebounded from a concussion to carry 16 times for 88 yards (5.5 ypc) and a pair of touchdowns. That had to come as a surprise, as coach Steve Spurrier never has been one to call many designed running plays for his quarterbacks.
Linebacker Jon Bostic had one of his most productive days as a Gator, recording 12 tackles (11 solo) at South Carolina. He was all over the field.
Close friend and fellow 'backer Jelani Jenkins returned to collect four tackles and break up a pass after missing the Vanderbilt game with an injury.
This may be tough to believe, but unless you count buck Ronald Powell as a linebacker instead of an end (generally he lines up in the front four), no other Florida LBs recorded a tackle against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina rushed for 215 yards on 52 carries as a team, a 4.1 ypc average. Considering the number of rushes the Gamecocks attempted, that total isn't bad.
Often, linebackers will be responsible for tight ends and running backs in coverage. South Carolina got only a five-yard reception each from RB Kenny Miles and TE Justice Cunningham.
Grade: B (though Bostic gets an 'A' for his performance)
The Gators defensive backs delivered their best performance of the season on Saturday afternoon at South Carolina.
Gamecocks standout receiver Alshon Jeffery, most likely a first-round pick in next April's NFL Draft, was held to a pair of catches for 17 yards.
In all, no South Carolina player had more than two receptions, as Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw finished 6-of-12 for 81 yards with an interception and no passing touchdowns.
Because tailback Brandon Wilds (29 carries for 120 yards) and Shaw (16 carries for 88 yards and two touchdowns) were able to run into the secondary so often, Florida's safeties were required to make more tackles than usual.
And they responded.
Josh Evans had perhaps his most productive game as a Gator. The New Jersey native finished with 11 tackles, all solo.
Sophomore Matt Elam recorded eight tackles, including a sack that went for a half-a-yard. And true freshman Pop Saunders had just one tackle, but he added a beautiful diving interception of Shaw.
Jaylen Watkins finished with four tackles and broke up a pass, while fellow cornerback Marcus Roberson, a true freshman, added one tackle (meaning he did an exceptional job blanketing his man).
Senior placekicker Caleb Sturgis continued what could end up an All-American season by drilling both of his field goal attempts, from 21 and 24 yards.
True freshman Kyle Christy, who took over punting duties from David Lerner against Auburn, had four kicks for an average of 37.2 yards at South Carolina. Christy, a native of Indiana, had a long of 55 and had one punt downed inside the 20.
The Gamecocks did a good job of avoiding Florida's playmakers, as Jeff Demps (19 kickoff return yards), Andre Debose (15 kickoff return yards) and Pop Saunders (six punt return yards) weren't given the opportunity to do much.
On the flipside, South Carolina's Bruce Ellington, who also will be the Gamecocks starting point guard once football season ends, had 103 kickoff return yards for the day.
Florida had sound gameplans, and the Gators almost upset the defending SEC East champions on the road.
UF worked to establish the run and was successful, getting 132 yards out of Chris Rainey and 33 more from Jeff Demps.
Nitpicking a little, Florida has tremendous speed at receiver, but it rarely looks deep. That said, unless you are in the locker room, it is impossible to know how much John Brantley's ankle injury has affected his ability to plant when throwing downfield.
Defensively, the Gators were able to make South Carolina's standout receiver, Alshon Jeffery, a nonfactor. He had just two receptions for 17 yards.
However, in taking away the pass, Florida did give up some in the run, as the Gamecocks churned out 215 yards on the ground.
For the second consecutive game, Florida was relatively penalty-free. Playing disciplined football ever since a disastrous afternoon against Georgia, the Gators were flagged just five times for 30 yards versus South Carolina.
However, two of those penalties did give the Gamecocks first downs.
South Carolina finished the contest 3-of-4 on fourth down conversion attempts, which is a number no doubt UF wishes had been reversed.
Florida also was just 2-for-9 on third down conversion attempts, but the Gator defense held the Gamecocks to just 3-of-14.