tampabay.com

Something ol', nothin' new

Steve Spurrier, the Ol' Ball Coach, finds himself on the winning sideline again, only this time it's opposite the Gators.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published November 13, 2005


COLUMBIA, S.C. - For 12 years, Steve Spurrier gave to the Florida Gators.

On Saturday afternoon, he took away.

The SEC title hopes of the 2005 Gators were destroyed by the man who made Florida a league championship dynasty during the 1990s.

Fielding a team wracked by early-season suspensions, injuries and NCAA probation, the former Florida coach turned South Carolina savior led the Gamecocks to a 30-22 win over No. 12 Florida in front of 83,421 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

It was South Carolina's first win over Florida since 1939, a span of 14 games. "One of our goals was to beat the Big Three (Georgia, Florida and Tennessee), and we've beaten two of the three," Spurrier said. "To beat these guys for the first time is neat."

The loss ended Florida's hopes of winning the SEC East and left a hollow feeling in the hearts of players, particularly its senior class, which will leave without playing for a league championship.

"It's real tough," senior defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "I was looking for another shot at the SEC title, and we fell short. I thought we were going to be able to withstand all that hype, but those guys wanted it a lot more than we did."

It's impossible to escape the irony of it all.

When Spurrier resigned from the NFL after a failed two-year coaching stint with the Redskins, many expected - and wanted - him to return to Gainesville.

Florida chose Urban Meyer. Spurrier chose South Carolina. The Gamecocks said Saturday they got the better of the deal.

"We really wanted to win this game for Coach Spurrier," said senior fullback Daccus Turman, who had two touchdowns. "It was one of the games we had as a goal at the beginning of the season. We beat Florida.

"We knew we weren't going to be denied. We wanted to win."

Essentially, the game came down to a crucial miscalculation by the Gators and five moments. Spurrier is known for his passing game, which is what Florida (7-3, 5-3 SEC), expected.

But the Gamecocks (7-3, 5-3), who entered last in the SEC in rushing offense (79.2 yards per game) opted to run. They racked up 120 rushing yards and 126 passing on 17 attempts. The Gators never adjusted. "A lot of time was spent in coverage (in practice) because we felt like they were going to come out and throw the ball all over the place," Meyer said.

"I think they only threw it 17 times, which is surprising."

Then there were the critical moments: Florida trailed 20-12 at halftime but opened the second half with a 12-play drive to pull within 20-19. Meyer chose to go for the extra point instead of the two-point conversion, saying if the Gators failed it would have been too much of a "momentum deflator."

But three plays into South Carolina's next possession, Blake Mitchell hit Sidney Rice for a 64-yard pass that set up first and goal at the 1. Cornerback Dee Webb missed a tackle that would have held Rice to a short gain. Then Kyle Jackson missed before Reggie Nelson ran Rice down. The Gamecocks took a 27-19 lead on the next play.

"I never lost faith, but it kind of took the heart out of a lot of guys," Mincey said.

"(South Carolina) fed off that. That's what hurt us."

Meyer called it "a big momentum shift."

With the Gators driving and facing second and 1 at the South Carolina 45, they were hit with consecutive penalties, false start and holding, backing them up to their 40. Leak was sacked for a 6-yard loss on third down, and the Gators were forced to punt.

"We were going to take a shot probably right there," Meyer said.

Florida punter Eric Wilbur's 36-yard punt in the fourth quarter gave South Carolina the ball at its 43 with just less than 12 minutes left. The Gamecocks went on a six-play drive and took a 30-17 lead on a Josh Brown 37-yard field goal with 9:04 left.

Florida put together a 17-play drive that ate 6:13 off the clock in the fourth quarter but botched it 25 yards from the end zone. On third and 10 from the South Carolina 20, Leak was called for delay of game. His next pass to Dallas Baker was incomplete, and the Gators settled for a 43-yard field goal from Chris Hetland with 2:51 left.

The 10-point lead gained on the previous drive allowed the Gamecocks to play a soft defense, giving up dink passes and short runs while the clock ran down. Co-defensive coordinator John Thompson called the drive "a dream come true for the Gamecocks."

The Gators defense held South Carolina to three-and-out and was poised to get the ball back with one minute left. But the Gators were called for 12 men on the field, and the 15-yard penalty gave South Carolina a first down.

The South Carolina celebration began along with Florida's heartbreak.

"It's more fun when your team is not a dominant team and you find a way to win the game," Spurrier said. "It's neat the way we're winning.

"We're defying logic. We're not very good at stopping the run, and we're not very good at running it. And yet we're winning."