One win from Atlanta: Turnovers key rebound for Gators

By Joe Morgan

One win from Atlanta: Turnovers key rebound for Gators

Sharrif Floyd had one message for his teammates before Saturday’s game: FNB.

Florida never breaks.

“This week, [strength coach Jeff Dillman] kept saying it and kept saying it, and it got stuck in my head,” Floyd said. “I had it written on my tape. FNB. We can bend, but we don’t break.”

At this time last year, the Gators were broken.

Florida had just dropped a road game at Auburn for its third consecutive loss. A rash of injuries had exposed glaring depth issues. The Gators offense was suffering from the absence of injured starting quarterback John Brantley.

Florida limped into Jacksonville. Georgia sent the Gators home with their fourth straight loss and a winless October.

“I like this better,” UF coach Will Muschamp said when comparing this October to last.

Said center Jonotthan Harrison: “It was all a motivating factor. We just talked about, especially last year, the feeling in the locker room we had after the game, how bad it hurt. We even had guys getting emotional over it and we used it as pure motivation to come out here and completely dominate this team.”

Now, the Gators, who maintained their No. 2 BCS ranking, simply need to defeat the Bulldogs to clinch the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.

But the road back to the top has not been easy. Florida has bent plenty this year.

Second-half rallies have been the norm for Muschamp’s club in 2012. The Gators have overcome halftime deficits to win games three times this season.

However, Florida did not need post-halftime heroics to defeat South Carolina 44-11 on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The No. 3 Gators (7-0, 6-0 SEC) bested the ninth-ranked Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC) with big plays in the first 30 minutes.

On South Carolina’s first play from scrimmage, Loucheiz Purifoy blitzed. Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw never saw him coming.

Untouched, Purifoy delivered the blow that set the tone for Saturday’s game. The ball came loose, and Florida had first and goal at South Carolina’s 2-yard line. Soon after, UF took a 7-0 lead.

“I was like ‘Oh, this is a kill shot. I’m going to kill him,’” Purifoy said. “When he stepped up and left the ball out I was like ‘You messed up.’ And I slapped the ball out of his hand.”

It was not the last time South Carolina lost its handle on the football.

Florida forced three more fumbles and recovered two. The Gators scored a touchdown off each fumble they recovered.

UF’s 44 points were the most it has scored in a game this season.

After averaging just 11.8 points per game last October, Florida has scored 29.7 per game this October.

“We know that touchdowns are going to win games,” Driskel said. “Field goals aren’t going to win games consistently, so when we did get our opportunities, and we got a lot tonight, we scored touchdowns. That’s what you’re going to have to do.”

After halftime, Florida continued its trademark second-half dominance. During the third quarter, the Gators buried the Gamecocks.

Florida tallied nine first downs, 133 yards of total offense and 16 points. South Carolina ran eight plays for a total of minus-1 yard.

When the fourth quarter began, the Gators put the finishing touches on their 7-0 start.

Florida’s excitement from its improbable start spilled over on Saturday.

Following a Jelani Jenkins interception that was reversed due to an offside call, Muschamp ran over to the junior linebacker and tackled him in celebration.

“He really is the boom coach,” Jenkins said. “He knocked me out.”

Florida won its seventh game of the 2011 season on Jan. 2, 2012. The victory helped the Gators avoid their first losing season since 1979.

This year, Florida notched its seventh win on Oct. 21. Just 51 weeks removed from the final defeat of a winless October, the Gators are only one triumph away from an undefeated run through the same month in 2012.

However, Florida is on the cusp of something even greater. A win against the Bulldogs would clinch the SEC East.

One more victory against the SEC West champion in a de facto national semifinal would put Florida in a position few expected before the season: the BCS Championship Game in Miami.

“We’re not going to be completely satisfied until we’re in the championship at the end of the year,” Harrison said. “That’s our main goal. If we keep just working the way we’re working, I feel like we can do that.”

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