Will Muschamp

There isn’t a game that epitomizes the 2012 Florida Gators football team more than its matchup with South Carolina. 

No. 3 Florida scored 44 points in its 44-11 drubbing of the No. 7 Gamecocks. It scored those 44 points with only 183 yards of total offense. The defense forced four turnovers, two of which were on special teams.

The Gamecocks never had a chance in the game, as defensive back Louchiez Purifoy set the tone with a strip sack on the game’s opening play that gave the Gators first and goal immediately.

The majority of the game was a snoozer, with both teams punting seven times each. But it was the Gators defense that turned this game between top-10 teams into a blowout. 

Florida held South Carolina to 191 yards of offense and only 36 yards on the ground. Mike Davis led the Gamecocks in rushing with a mere 20 yards. South Carolina also never got into the endzone.

The Gamecocks didn’t play poorly defensively, either. In fact, one could argue they played just as well as the Gators defense did. But, as I stated earlier, this game epitomized the 2012 Gators football season: an inconsistent offense that was constantly bailed out by an all-time great defense.

Florida finished the regular season 11-1 with its lone loss being a 17-9 defeat to Georgia, keeping Florida out of the SEC title game and a chance at the national title. However, despite the season ending with a loss in the Sugar Bowl to No. 21 Louisville, this team should be remembered for more than a team that fell short of the ultimate prize.

To start, the Gators played one of the nation's toughest schedules in 2012. They had six matchup with teams ranked in the top-25 along with a game against Texas A&M and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Florida was 5-2 in those games, and the defense allowed an average of 16 points in those five wins. Only three Gators defenses since 2000 (2006, 2008 and 2009) allowed less points and yard per game than the 2012 unit.

On the flip side though, the team had played down to their competition at times. Florida had narrow victories over Bowling Green and Louisiana-Lafayette, needing a late touchdown and blocked punt to beat the Ragin-Cajuns. 

One thing Muschamp’s teams always had was suffocating defenses, and 2012 was the apex of that. Florida allowed only 14.5 points a game and 287.5 yards of offense, which were fifth-and-eighth least in the nation.

The defense was laden with talent with two players being taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft (Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam). In total, five players on the 2012 defense were drafted.

The unit held Texas A&M and Georgia well below their season average in points, allowing less points to both teams than Alabama did.

Offensively, the team had its fair share of struggles - Scoring only 23 points against Jacksonville State and 14 points against a Missouri team that allowed 28 points a game. But, it ran the ball well.

Mike Gillislee rushed for 1,152 yards on 244 carries, averaging 4.7 yards a touch. Watching his games against LSU and Florida State really showed what kind of power and anger he ran with.

Jeff Driskel was serviceable at quarterback and made plenty of plays with his feet before an ankle injury hindered his mobility late in the season. He was efficient enough, completing 64 percent of his passes and throwing just five interceptions, though the two he threw against Georgia arguably cost Florida the game.

Driskel had plenty of NFL talent around him. Both Jordan Reed and Trey Burton had solid pro careers at tight end, with Reed being one of the game’s best when healthy. He caught 45 passes for 559 yards and got into the end zone three times. Quinton Dunbar also was an explosive playmaker at receiver and has carved out a solid career as a converted corner in the NFL.

What hurts this team more than anything when discussing its legacy are the seasons it’s sandwiched between. In 2011, the first year under Muschamp, the Gators went 7-6. Meanwhile, 2013 was the worst Gator season since 1979 (Florida went 0-10-1 in 1979).

This takes the luster away from what was truly a fantastic season for the Gators. Florida beat Tennessee by 17 points in Neyland Stadium and beat FSU by 11 at Doak Campbell Stadium. Besides 2012, the Gators have only won in Knoxville and Tallahassee four times in the same season (2006, 2008 and 2018).

The 2012 team shouldn’t be remembered for what could have been, but for what it was: a gritty, in-your-face team that wanted to hit on every play.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelKnauffUF