For almost 60 minutes of football Saturday, ESPN analyst Matt Millen implored Florida to throw the ball down the field. When the Gators finally did, it became apparent why they had not earlier.
The offense that Florida used during a 19-14 loss to South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium was a throw back to the days before the forward pass. If playing without the regular starting quarterback is like having one arm tied behind your back, what the Gators did Saturday was play with both hands tied and a foot hobbled.
Florida ran the ball 41 times and threw it 14, but that disparity doesn’t fully explain the limited potential of the Gators’ offense. Freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, who began the season as a third-teamer and hadn’t taken a snap in a college game until Saturday, started against South Carolina due to injuries to Florida’s top two quarterbacks.
Mornhinweg threw 13 of the Gators’ 14 passes, completing 10, but almost all were running plays disguised as passes, a review of the game by The State revealed. Mornhinweg’s first five passes were thrown behind the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that he threw the ball past the line of scrimmage, and that throw resulted in a 3-yard completion.
“Somewhere in here, they are going to have to let Mornhinweg make a throw down the field,” Millen said during the broadcast of the game. “They have to.”
The Gators did not do so until the final drive, and that did not go well. The first pass Mornhinweg threw that went further than 5 yards was a 10-yard toss that went right into the hands of Gamecocks cornerback Jimmy Legree.
“We followed the script in what we thought we needed to do to win the game — ball possession, field position, eat the clock, play good defense,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said after the game.
That script resulted in two touchdowns on the first two Florida drives, which totaled 17 plays (15 runs) and 142 yards. From there, it was clear the Gators could not throw the ball and thus they could no longer run it with any efficiency. Florida averaged 8.9 yards on 15 carries on its first two drives. From that point, the Gamecocks put all their defensive resources into stopping the running game, and the Gators averaged 2.5 yards on 26 carries.
Other observations from The Tape include:
• USC quarterback Connor Shaw did not have his sharpest night, overthrowing five passes in the first half.
“His footwork and ball position were out of whack,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday.
• The Gamecocks’ run blocking has regressed. Discounting a 58-yard run by Shon Carson (on which Florida blitzed a cornerback and a linebacker missed his assignment in the hole Carson ran through), South Carolina averaged 3.1 yards on 34 carries.
• South Carolina’s problems in the red zone were a microcosm of their larger offensive struggles, inconsistent run blocking in short yardage situations and an inability by wide receivers to separate from man coverage. The Gators’ secondary, the most talented unit on the team, smothered the Gamecocks in man-to-man coverage all night.
USC twice had first-and-goal from inside the 5 against Florida and failed to get a touchdown. The first time, Shaw was sacked for a 5-yard loss on third-and-goal from the 2 on what appeared to be a quarterback draw. It was such a wreck that it was impossible to tell. Right before that play was run, a USC assistant was banging on the glass partition of the coaches’ booth next to the press box, and Shaw appeared to try to call timeout before the snap. After the snap, it was clear why.
• Florida’s defensive speed cut off angles that had been there for South Carolina most of the season, particularly on the option. The Gamecocks ran their option play twice, including on fourth-and-3 in the second half, and it was stuffed both times.
• Jadeveon Clowney was, of course, a major topic for the TV announcers.
“Clowney’s skills are better than any that I have seen in a long, long time,” Millen said. ‘When you watch the tape of him, you see what people are so excited about. My biggest concern with Clowney is he plays when he wants to play seemingly. If that’s the case, those guys are dangerous.”
• Florida studied its game plan against Texas A&M Johnny Manziel to prepare for Shaw’s running ability, Millen said during the broadcast.
• The Gamecocks are 6-for-27 on third downs the past two games.