Florida at South Carolina score: Gators off to worst start since 1979 with another loss

South Carolina topped Florida 28-20 in Columbia on Saturday in a game that, despite having no impact on the SEC East race, does indicate a clear power shift in the evolving division. 

Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley threw for 249 yards and rushed for two touchdowns in the win, Florida starting quarterback Malik Zaire left because of a leg injury suffered in the second quarter and his replacement, Feleipe Franks, couldn’t muster up a late comeback at Williams-Brice Stadium.

What did we learn from Saturday’s game between the Gamecocks and Gators?

Will Muschamp deserves a ton of credit: Remember when Muschamp was considered the punchline to a bad joke after his four failed years in Florida? 

Yeah, that’s history. First-time head coaches in major college football have their work cut out for him, and during his first two seasons at South Carolina, it’s clear that he’s evolved into a solid coach who learned from his mistakes and is becoming what we all thought he would be when Florida hired him in December 2010.

While the offense hasn’t been great all year, he has dedicated the program to the tempo-based scheme under coordinator Kurt Roper — who was with him during his final season in Gainesville. He has tossed away the notion of time of possession being the most important factor to winning games, forcing quarterbacks who operate out of the shotgun in high school to move under center and has put faith in his coordinators.

He’s not a control freak, an emotional wreck or a loose cannon. He’s a head coach now.

He has handed total trust of the defense to second-year coordinator and long-time assistant Travaris Robinson, polished off a 5-3 SEC season with the win and has the once-lost South Carolina program headed to a pretty decent bowl game.

Gamecocks running back A.J. Turner is a future star: At 5-foot-10, 184 pounds, the sophomore running back doesn’t look imposing, but don’t be fooled by his stature, he’s one of the SEC’s top unsung heroes.

The native of Clifton, Virginia, racked up 136 yards in the win over Florida, showed off his speed in space and surprisingly ran over a few unsuspecting Gators who weren’t prepared for his deceptive power. 

He has emerged as a huge piece of an evolving Gamecocks’ puzzle.

Bentley and receiver Bryan Edwards are also sophomores, and have gained even more valuable experience this year as the Gamecocks have emerged as the clear-cut, second-best team in the SEC East. 

With this core staying intact for at least one more year and possibly two, the future for Muschamp’s crew looks incredibly bright.

The new Florida coach has his work cut out for him: Good luck, Scott Frost, Dan Mullen, Matt Campbell, Willie Taggart or whoever lands the Florida head coaching gig next year. Jim McElwain left a mess of a team that, after its sixth loss of the season, likely won’t go to a bowl game. 

The Gators clearly don’t trust the redshirt freshman Franks, would have to appeal to get another year of Zaire — who made his second start of the season but went out with a leg injury. Florida has issues along the offensive line, no playmakers who are eligible to play outside and a defense that not only is a shell of its former self now, but will lose corner Duke Dawson — and possibly end Cece Jefferson — and don’t have the depth they had during McElwain’s back-to-back SEC East title years of 2015 and 2016.

This isn’t a one-year rebuild under normal SEC East circumstances, and the current landscape that includes a revved up Georgia, young and improving South Carolina and likely rebooted Tennessee will make it difficult for the Gators to be relevant in 2018 no matter who takes the reins.

Florida had perhaps the most Florida play ever: It hasn’t been the best season in Gatorland by any stretch considering the nine suspensions prior to the season, the mid-season dismissal of McElwain and revolving door of quarterbacks — none of whom has emerged as a difference-maker.

But Saturday provided the most Florida play of 2017.

With the ball on the 4-yard line, South Carolina’s Bentley had a miscommunication with his receiver and dropped a dime to Gators corner CJ Henderson, who returned it inside the five before being stripped. Gamecocks’ running back Turner picked it up in the end zone and returned it all the way out to the 24-yard line.

So, on a gift of an interception that nearly went for a score, the Gators instead allowed the Gamecocks to gain 20 yards. 

That perfectly sums up Florida’s disaster of a season.

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