Columbia, S.C. — One week after Florida head coach Dan Mullen took public heat for not listening to the school band after a loss, he ignored the instruments once again in South Carolina.
As a group of roughly 25 Florida players made their way to the far corner of the field and faced the music, the fourth-year head coach instead trudged toward the locker room. His defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, followed suit, repeatedly glancing at the massive scoreboard up in the corner of Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gators traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, for a Saturday battle with a struggling Gamecocks squad and left with a 40-17 defeat. The Gators now sit 4-5 after four losses in their past five games, their first time below .500 under Mullen.
The Gamecocks’ offense remained in a slumber evoking Princess Aurora through its early SEC schedule. South Carolina and first-year head coach Shame Beamer hadn’t scored more than 21 points against a conference foe before Saturday night, and the Gamecocks gained more than 400 yards once. They sat 1-4 in the conference with three losses of 20 or more points.
They hadn’t played Grantham yet.
Third-string quarterback Jason Brown, a redshirt senior FCS transfer from St. Francis, started his first game Saturday due to multiple injuries at the position. In his team’s first eight games, he’d thrown 20 passes for 129 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
He executed a flea flicker on his first play from scrimmage and found wide receiver Josh Vann for 16 yards. The new signal-caller orchestrated scoring drives in each of the ‘Cocks five first-half possessions Saturday, and he finished the game with 175 yards and two touchdowns, completing 14 of his 24 attempts.
Vann authored a statement performance of his own. The senior led his team in 2021 with 431 yards before the Saturday showdown but had not hauled in over 100 yards in the Gamecocks’ conference opener against Georgia.
Brown found Vann three times in one possession in the second quarter, including a 50-yard shot on the opening play. Three players later, Florida’s secondary seemed content to practice its social distancing, leaving Vann alone in the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. The wideout finished with 111 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions.
South Carolina tailback Zaquandre White, despite averaging 6.9 yards per attempt through eight weeks, had not surpassed 65 yards against an SEC foe. In fact, the former Iowa Western Community College standout only rushed for more than 50 yards three times in his two seasons in Columbia.
White burst through a hole for 54 yards on the opening play of South Carolina’s second drive. He followed the electric run with 17 more yards on his next two carries to lead the Gamecocks into the red zone and finished the game with 111 yards on 13 attempts. Junior running back Kevin Harris primarily handled the second half and racked up 128 yards for his first 100-yard game of the season.
The Gators seemed ready to keep pace at first with 10 points in their first three drives. Quarterback Emory Jones completed eight of his first 11 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown, featuring a pair of first-quarter rainbows that seemed destined for orbit before they found wideouts Justin Shorter and Marcus Burke for 52 and 61 yards, respectively..
With gameday temperatures hovering fractionally above 50 degrees, Florida’s offense eventually froze over. In keeping with the night’s theme, a UF rushing attack which hadn’t churned out less than 138 yards in a game this season managed merely 82 yards on 26 carries.
The Gamecocks allowed just under 169 yards per game on the ground over their first eight games, merely 88th in the country.
“I think part of that for them was putting everybody at the line of scrimmage, and that’s where we were able to hit some explosive plays early on,” Mullen said about the performance after the game.
A pair of Jones turnovers cemented the Gators’ fate in Columbia. On Florida’s final full drive of the first half, he attempted to scramble for a first down, but lost the football on the way to the ground. Defensive lineman Jabari Ellis scooped the ball and ran it all the way back for a Gamecocks touchdown. In the second half, he sailed a pass over the head of everyone but South Carolina defensive back Cam Smith, who brought down the interception.
The two plays were, of course, Ellis’ first touchdown and Smith’s first interception of the season.
When asked why he ignored the band for a second week, Mullen shrugged.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t know we had the band here,” he said.
Florida returns to action at home in Gainesville with a noon game against Samford on Nov. 13.
Contact Ryan Haley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley.
Ryan Haley, a UF journalism senior with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida, is Summer 2022's Engagement Managing Editor. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.