Florida went 0-for-October last season, with humbling losses to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia.
It bothered coaches and players for a year.
It motivated them, too.
A year later, the Gators have a chance to end the month with a division title.
”I like this better,” coach Will Muschamp said. ”So does everybody else.”
Jeff Driskel threw four touchdown passes – three of them after turnovers – and the third-ranked Gators matched their win total from 2011 with a 44-11 drubbing of No. 9 South Carolina on Saturday.
The Gators avenged consecutive losses to the Gamecocks, including one a couple of years ago that ended with Steve Spurrier and his players celebrating a division title in The Swamp.
”We remember the feeling, how bad it hurt,” center Jon Harrison said. ”We even had guys getting emotional over it. We just used that as pure motivation to come out here and completely dominate this team.”
Florida’s latest whatever-it-takes win kept Muschamp’s team undefeated and put it on the cusp of the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division title. The Gators (7-0, 6-0 SEC) can clinch a spot in the league’s championship game by beating No. 13 Georgia next week in nearby Jacksonville.
Florida, No. 2 in the BCS rankings, won this one with turnovers, stellar defense and more halftime adjustments – the kind of successful tweaks that are making Muschamp and his staff seem like the right fit in Gainesville.
The Gators finished 7-6 last season, barely avoiding the program’s first losing season since 1979. The struggles had outsiders questioning whether Muschamp could get Florida back to national prominence.
He’s got the team there now – even if it hasn’t always been pretty.
The Gators managed just 29 yards and two first downs in the first half against South Carolina (6-2, 4-2). But they led 21-6 thanks to three turnovers.
Loucheiz Purifoy knocked the ball out of Connor Shaw’s hands on the first play. Lerentee McCray recovered, giving Florida the ball at the 2-yard line. Driskel hooked up with Jordan Reed on third down, putting the Gators up early.
It also was a sign of things to come for the Gamecocks, who had trouble holding onto the ball all afternoon.
Ace Sanders fumbled on a punt return that led to Driskel’s second TD pass. He found Quinton Dunbar for a 13-yard score. Dunbar spun out of DeVonte Holloman’s grasp before coasting across the goal line.
On the ensuing kickoff, Solomon Patton forced Damiere Byrd to fumble. Chris Johnson picked it up and nearly scored. He was stopped at the 1, setting up Driskel’s third TD pass to Reed. Driskel faked a handoff and found Reed alone in the back of the end zone, which made it 21-3.
”I’d rather have 1 yard in front of me than 75,” Driskel said.
South Carolina, seventh in the BCS rankings, failed to generate much offense. In fact, the Gamecocks managed two field goal in the first half thanks to penalties and returned a blocked extra point for two points in the third quarter.
Shaw completed 9 of 20 passes for 72 yards. He was benched in the second half, replaced by Dylan Thompson. Thompson completed 8 of 20 passes for 83 yards, with an interception.
”Coach Spurrier told me at halftime we were going to make the change,” Shaw said. ”He told me I wasn’t getting the job done. I was completely supportive of him. Bottom line today, we just didn’t execute.”
The Gators put the game away by scoring on all three possessions in the third quarter, getting a 6-yard TD run by Omarius Hines, a field goal and a 6-yard pass from Driskel to Frankie Hammond Jr.
They made South Carolina’s defensive front, which dominated in the first half, look suspect. They also better controlled standout end pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who gave them fits early. And they kept South Carolina off balance with creative play-calling that included tight end Trey Burton in the wildcat.
”It was embarrassing for us, very embarrassing to lose,” Spurrier said. ”We’ve got to reevaluate a lot of our personnel and get players out there who really want to play for South Carolina. Two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have thought this. We had a bad one today. LSU was bad (last week). This one was worse. We’ve got to regroup somehow.”
Driskel completed 11 of 16 passes for 93 yards. Mike Gillislee ran 19 times for 37 yards. Reed caught four passes for 44 yards.
Florida’s defense and special teams were much more impressive.
The Gators held South Carolina to 191 yards, including minus-1 in the third quarter. Marcus Lattimore, who didn’t start because of a hip injury, ran just three times for 13 yards. And Florida dominated every aspect of special teams. In addition to the two forced fumbles, Kyle Christy had seven punts of at least 50 yards.
”We’re on our way to being what Florida used to be, what Florida’s known for,” Harrison said. ”We hope to accomplish that this season.”