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Third-ranked Gators humble Gamecocks

The Post and Courier
Sunday, November 16, 2008


South Carolina’s Kenny McKinley (right) has nowhere to run after being corralled by Florida’s Brandon Spikes (51) and Justin Trattou.

GAINESVILLE, FLA. — The following are distinct possibilities for South Carolina: Beating Clemson in a couple of weeks. Netting a New Year's Day bowl bid. Winning that bowl game, something that's happened just four times in school history. Landing another top-10 recruiting class come February.

All in all, the Gamecocks could easily prove that, with Steve Spurrier running things, they're on the rise.

But they learned an earnest lesson Saturday: No matter how much they've climbed, there's a long, long, long way to the top.

Humbling thought on a humbling afternoon.

Third-ranked Florida smacked No. 24 South Carolina the same way it's been smacking everyone lately, the Gators going up 21-0 after a mistake-ridden first quarter for the Gamecocks on the way to a 56-6 whipping before 90,646 fans at the soggy Swamp.

To his old team and alma mater, it was the worst loss in Spurrier's four years at South Carolina.

Further, it was his worst loss in 19 seasons as a college coach.

"You add it all up, and you get clobbered," Spurrier said. "I don't know what we could've done differently, except try to keep it close."

A pair of Chris Smelley interceptions deep in his own territory and a botched throwback on a kickoff return signaled the end for the Gamecocks (7-4, 4-4 SEC) in the first quarter.

"We went out there and got killed," USC receiver Kenny McKinley said.

Kicking downtrodden South Carolina in the teeth, Percy Harvin went for an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half to send the Gators to a 35-3 lead.

And the Gators (9-1, 7-1) wanted more. Coach Urban Meyer was throwing deep with a 42-6 lead in the final minutes of the third quarter.

Florida wound up punching that drive's ticket with a 5-yard throw from Tim Tebow to tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Tebow, out of the game by the early part of the fourth quarter, finished with three combined scores — four fewer than a year ago. But, this year, the Heisman winner had help.

Harvin, who didn't play a year ago against USC, finished with a career-high 167 rushing yards — more than three times as many as the Gamecocks had as a team.

The Gators ran up 519 yards — including 346 rushing yards — and scored on four plays longer than 25 yards. They had 236 rushing yards and nearly 400 total yards midway through the third quarter.

No Florida scoring drive lasted more than three minutes, 19 seconds. And that was glacial, compared to most of the others.

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, right, greets South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier at midfield after their NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla. Florida won 56-6.

Ellis Johnson's scheme was designed to slow spread offenses. But it didn't impede the country's pre-eminent spread offense.

"We knew that South Carolina had the No. 1 defense in the SEC," Harvin said. "We thought our offense was the best and we had the best running backs, so we had something to prove."

Done. It's been proven.

And then there was the USC offense, which wound up with just 173 total yards.

Pairing the 51-31 loss to Florida last season with Saturday, the Gators have outscored the Gamecocks by 70 in two years.

That's noteworthy. Because Florida is the only team still doing that to USC these days.

Those 20-plus point losses are South Carolina's only ones since Alabama (23 points) and Auburn (41) in Spurrier's first year at USC.

"It's crazy," said McKinley, a freshman in 2005. "I didn't know it was going to be like this."

Florida has scored more than 42 points in five straight games, the first time that's happened since the 1996 and 2001 seasons. It's the first time ever in the SEC that a team has won six consecutive league games by more than 28 points.

Yes, the Gators are doing what they did to teams, USC included, when Spurrier was coaching at Florida.

This time, he was on the other sideline. He wore all sorts of looks of confusion and disgust as the rain pelted him and the score continued to get more ridiculous.

Florida scored three times in just a little more than two minutes during the latter part of the first quarter to finish off South Carolina before some fans had reached their rain-soaked seats.

The Gamecocks knew Florida had been slaughtering opponents by preying on their errors. And, yet, USC played right into the trap.

Smelley's first interception was admittedly all on him. He rolled out in his own end zone on third-and-long and lofted a pass into the middle of a zone. Linebacker Brandon Spikes snared it and walked in for a 12-yard score.

The second interception — on his next play in the game — was tipped at the line and picked by safety Ahmad Black.

Harvin ran for a 26-yard score on the next play.

Down 14-0 in a hurry, USC got a little desperate. Dion LeCorn fielded the kickoff in the right side of the end zone, came out to the 4-yard line and tried to zip a lateral across the field to Chris Hail.

But it went over Hail's head and Florida's James Smith picked up the ball, taking it to the 1-foot line. Bowling ahead, Tebow went in three plays later.

Score: Florida 21, South Carolina done.

"We needed to have a solid first quarter and make a statement," Smelley said, "and we didn't do that."

In the current six-game win streak for Florida, it has outscored opponents 101-0 in the first quarter.

By the time Tebow found receiver Deonte Thompson for a 46-yard touchdown bomb on a go route, the Gators had put up more points on USC than any other team this year — with 11:17 to go in the first half.

"This is the most complete team we've played," Johnson said. "By far."

Added Spurrier: "We've hung in there with some people. But today we got displayed as if we're not very good at all."

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com and check out his South Carolina blog at www.charleston.net/blogs/gamecocks.

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GO GAMECOCKS!