Fall Sports

Grading the Gators: UF slips past South Carolina

Photo by Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

Offense: C

Florida put up 38 points against a solid South Carolina defense, so why does the offensive unit only draw an average grade?

Thank the refs.

The zebras missed a false start and a holding call on Dameon Pierce’s 75-yard sprint to the end zone, and they botched an offensive pass interference (pick by Josh Hammond) on a Kyle Pitts touchdown reception.

The referees also flagged a soft demonstration of pass interference against SCAR’s Jaycee Horn on Van Jefferson, setting up UF’s fifth touchdown of the game (five-yard screen pass to Trevon Grimes).

Without these missed calls, the contest would probably have much closer than 11 points.

Aside from the refs, the Gators’ other MVP was wide receiver Jacob Copeland. The sophomore had by far the best performance of his career, snagging all three targets for 89 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown.

Quarterback Kyle Trask’s numbers look decent (21 of 33, 200 yards, four touchdowns, one interception), but he pitched one of his worst contests of the season.

Trask was mediocre for most of the game, struggling with a wet football. He completed 16 of 27 passes for 136 yards, a touchdown and an interception through the third quarter.

No. 11 became more consistent handling the ball in the fourth, going 5 of 6 for 64 yards and three touchdowns, but those scores weren’t particularly pretty. One was a duck thrown in the direction of Freddie Swain, who made a tremendous adjustment on the ball and a diving catch at the goaline. The others were the aforementioned pick play and the screen set up by the ticky-tacky pass interference.

Lamical Perine was one of Florida’s most consistent players, picking up 68 yards on 14 carries (4.9 average). His savviness and ability to shake defenders in the backfield for short gains continues to bring a legitimate rushing dynamic to UF’s offense, and he takes a lot of pressure off of Trask.

More reliance on Perine and less on passing could be a formula to a better grade.

Defense: C

Good thing the Gators have a BYE week upcoming because they’re likely to have nightmares of Tavien Feaster’s legs pumping for days to come.

Despite leading rusher Rico Dowdle (Dowdle entering the game, now Feaster) leaving the game after his first carry, the Gamecocks powered for 217 yards, 175 of which Feaster accounted for.

SCAR’s bruiser averaged 7 yards per carry and rumbled in for a touchdown, while backup Mon Denson averaged 4.8 yards on 12 carries and scored as well. The running back tandem frequently broke to the second and third levels of UF’s defense, causing linebacker David Reese to step up. Reese answered with 13 tackles (seven solo), and fellow backer Ventrell Miller accumulated five (two solo).

Florida found more success against the passing game, holding freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski to just a 48.6 percent completion rate (17 of 35) and 170 yards.

The Gator pass rush pressured Hilinski seven times and recorded three sacks despite missing its best assets, Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga. Zachary Carter made one of the matchup’s most important plays when he forced a sack-fumble recovered by Kyree Campbell. The turnover led to a touchdown three plays later.

The pass rush helped take pressure off the secondary, led by corner CJ Henderson. The junior tackled nine Gamecocks (eight solo), sacked Hilinski once and forced a pass breakup.

However, the secondary had trouble with SCAR’s top wide receiver, Bryan Edwards. The senior caught seven balls for 78 yards and three first downs, but he could have easily had more. Edwards consistently burned one-on-one coverage and got open deep, but he connected with Hilinski only once on a deep ball (41 yards), as the quarterback had trouble with overthrows down the field.

Florida’s pass coverage and run defense will have to return to its better early-season form in order to warrant a better grade.

Special Teams: B+

Despite the sloppy, rainy conditions, Florida’s special teams garnered a strong grade.

The positivity starts with the sure-handed Freddie Swain, who fielded seven punts — four inside his own 20 — and secured them all. It’s one of the most difficult things to do in football, and Swain never put in doubt his abilities to safely catch the ball in horrible weather.

Tommy Townsend also had a nice day booting the ball for UF, averaging 44.7 yards per punt with a long of 55. He boomed two kicks over 50 yards and pinned the Gamecocks inside their own 20 three times. His kicks were complemented by good coaverage, as none were returned and one was downed at the two yard line.

Florida’s biggest special teams mistake was a forgivable one, as James Houston was flagged for playing without his helmet on a kickoff. The violation moved South Carolina to its own 43. However, the damage was minimized by the UF defense, as SCAR punted on the following drive.

Evan McPherson continued his consistency, improving to 8 of 9 on field-goal attempts for the year. He nailed a 48-yarder, as the wind swirled the ball through the uprights in the first quarter.

Coaching: C-

There were a lot of head-scratchers in this one.

Let’s start with Luke Ancrum.

The defensive lineman lined up offside twice in goal-to-go situations, one of which bailed out the Gamecocks from a six-yard loss due to a high snap. Carolina would score a touchdown the next play.

Ancrum has to know better, especially after lining up offside once. You’re taught in Pop Warner to look at the ball, and the fact that Ancrum couldn’t remember that after being flagged is truly frustrating to watch.

Other bad penalties included Houston’s personal foul for playing without a helmet and a delay of game from UF’s own 11 yard line. Already third-and-15, a delay of game is the last penalty that should occur. Florida needs to take a timeout at least in that situation.

Part of Dan Mullen’s offensive game plan was also confusing.

Coming out and throwing the ball at intermediate distances in rainy weather, doesn’t make much sense, and it showed through Trask’s early struggles to grip the football. You’ve got to hand the ball off, maybe try some jet sweeps or screens, to combat the slick football.

Also, where was Emory Jones during this game? The only time the redshirt freshman played was because Trask’s helmet was knocked off, but the run-first package associated with Jones should have been something Mullen leaned on in the bad weather.

Having Jones in the game opens up so much more for Florida’s running backs, as it causes a linebacker to account for the quarterback keeper. Incorporating Jones also would have helped the running game on first-and-10 with Trask in the game, as the defense may suspect a pass-first approach with Trask and commit more players to coverage.

However, Mullen must be heralded for the way he coached Trask through the contest. On the road in unfamiliar weather conditions, Trask could have gotten discouraged or felt he needed to do to much. However, the first person in his ear after every drive was Mullen, telling his starter what he did wrong on each failed possession.

Plus, a win is a win. Going on the road and finding a way to victory in adverse conditions always deserves a passing coaching grade.

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