GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida went 0-for-October last season, with humbling losses to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia.
It bothered coaches and players for a year – and 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 (7-0 overall, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) 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 SEC’s Eastern Division title. The Gators can clinch a spot in the league’s championship game by beating No. 13 Georgia next week in nearby Jacksonville, Fla.
Florida won this one with turnovers, stellar defense and more halftime adjustments – the kind of tweaks that are working right now for Muschamp.
But it hasn’t always been pretty.
The Gators managed 29 yards and two first downs in the first half against South Carolina (6-2, 4-2). But they held a 21-6 lead 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. 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.
Ace Sanders fumbled 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.
“The only thing you can hope is that your guys give it their best shot and not just lay the ball down and basically say, ‘Here, Florida, we don’t want to win,’ ” South Carolina coach Spurrier said. “ ‘You guys take this fumble and this fumble and this fumble.’ So it was sad.”