With an injury-depleted lineup and the prospect of facing Tim Tebow and the No. 1 Florida Gators, many wrote off the possibility of the South Carolina defense having an impact on Saturday’s game.
After the Gators scored in a minute and a half on their opening drive, even those who had thought it possible probably gave up hope.
But the defense rebounded and put in a valiant performance that kept the chance of an upset win alive for much of the game.
“I’m proud of the effort of our players, especially our defensive guys,” said South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier. “Our guys hung in there and fought the whole game.”
“I was proud of the effort,” said Assistant Head Coach Ellis Johnson. “From a character and effort standpoint, these kids have really got something to them. To have as little age and experience as we do and they still respond the way they do…they came back out and really fought hard.”
Five different times in the game, the Gators either started or made it into South Carolina territory and came away with no points.
“They had good field position and the defense responded and made some good plays,” said defensive end Clifton Geathers.
While it’s hard to see victories on a stat sheet, the Gamecocks put in their best defensive performance against the Gators in the last three years. Florida finished with 339 yards, nearly 100 yards below their season average.
“This was a very emotional game with the veterans out there and all the players were just trying to play their best and show their capability,” said Geathers. “”I think we did great as a team. We had 100% effort. We need to find a way to turn it up to 110.”
Geathers responded with a big game, finishing the night with seven tackles, one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss.
“I’m real proud of him, Clifton has played and practiced hurt the past few weeks,” said Johnson. “I’m really proud of the way he’s played and practiced.”
“I felt great – felt like I turned it up to a different level,” said Geathers.
Youth and inexperience has impacted decision-making at times by the South Carolina defense. Injuries on the defensive side of the ball have also affected the Gamecocks’ ability to maintain a cohesive unit.
“It’s not an effort or commitment thing, it’s been because we can’t keep a consistent lineup,” said Johnson. “We don’t have the same 14 or 15 guys on the field week after week so they become gelled together. Every time we go into a game, there’s a safety looking over at another safety and they’re talking to someone they didn’t talk to the week before. It’s a lot like a pitcher and a catcher. Those things make a difference.”
With the SEC season complete, it’s time for the Gamecocks to look ahead to the annual matchup with in-state rival Clemson on November 28 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“We’re going to play even harder for the Clemson game – no doubt about it,” said Geathers.