This may have been the final game in the Swamp for South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Florida’s Will Muschamp.
After Muschamp went conservative again and settled for a field goal to start overtime, Dylan Thompson scored on a 4-yard keeper to give the Gamecocks a 23-20 victory over Florida on Saturday.
South Carolina (5-5, 3-5 SEC) ended a four-game losing streak in Southeastern Conference play and knocked Florida (5-4, 4-4) out of contention in the league’s muddled Eastern Division.
The loss also could mean the end for Muschamp, who has dropped 13 of his last 22 games. The fourth-year coach has been on the hot seat all season, and a three-game losing streak at home could be the final blow in what’s been a mediocre tenure. Fans have been chanting “Fire Muschamp!” in the stadium.
“I’m getting a little old when you start feeling sorry for the other coach,” said the 69-year-old Spurrier, who won the 1996 Heisman Trophy as Florida’s quarterback and coached the Gators to a national title 30 years later. “I do feel for coach Muschamp. He’s a good guy, and it appeared they had that game in pretty good shape, but they didn’t make a first down and we blocked the punt and we win the game somehow.”
The “Head Ball Coach” said last week he plans to return for an 11th season at South Carolina, but there are no guarantees he will be around when the Gamecocks return to Gainesville in 2016.
Muschamp might not make it to next week.
Athletic director Jeremy Foley said last month that he would evaluate the season “as it plays out.” Aside from bowl eligibility and maybe pride, the Gators have nothing left to play for in mid-November for the second straight season.
“I’m going to coach this football team, and we’re going to move on and get ready for the next one,” Muschamp said. “That’s what I’ll do and that’s what our staff will do and the team will do. I’ll let you guys speculate.”
Florida’s biggest problem Saturday was obvious: special teams. The Gamecocks blocked a 32-yard field goal attempt that would have given the Gators a 10-point lead with a little more than 3 minutes to play. South Carolina also blocked a punt with 39 seconds left, setting up the game-tying touchdown.
“When you get two kicks blocked with 3:30 to play, that costs you the football game,” Muschamp said. “Just don’t’ know what else to say other than that.”
South Carolina has been on the wrong end of several similar games, dealing with blown leads and gut-wrenching defeats all year. So Spurrier knew exactly how Muschamp felt after this one. The two have become close friends over the last four years.
“Maybe I know him too well,” Spurrier said. “We all know he’s sort of on the hot seat. I hope he stays. He’s got a bunch of good players. Man, to have a field goal and a punt blocked … that doesn’t happen often.”
The Gators stopped South Carolina on fourth down after the blocked field goal, but Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper called three straight running plays near midfield. That set up Kyle Christy’s punt.
Carlton Heard, one of several South Carolina players in the backfield, blocked it. Jasper Sasser recovered, and the Gamecocks scored four plays later. Thompson pitched to Mike Davis on an option play. Davis never got a handle on the ball, but recovered in the end zone for a tying touchdown.
“We put ourselves in position to win that game, bottom line,” Muschamp said. “If you don’t get the punt blocked, you win the game.”
It surely will be deemed an inexcusable collapse for the Gators – and Muschamp. Florida nearly lost to Kentucky and Tennessee early in the season and then dropped home games to LSU and Missouri. The Gators should have won both, losing to LSU after dropping a would-be touchdown in the final minutes and getting drubbed by Mizzou because of six turnovers.
Florida also allowed Missouri to score on a kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt return for a score.
The latest loss was especially bad because South Carolina limped into the game with one of the worst defenses in the league and the country. The Gamecocks had allowed 460 yards a game and forced a combined five punts in losses against Auburn and Tennessee.
Florida punted seven times – with the last one being the most damaging.
It really could cost Muschamp.
“It’s very hurtful to the team,” Florida receiver Latroy Pittman said. “I mean, it causes things like finger pointing and stuff like that. It can cause a team to start questioning each other and pointing fingers at who’s to blame and who’s not to blame.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.