The only way Kyle Markway would have been more open was if the Gators’ defense was off the field.
He was that uncovered.
It started out as a routine play. South Carolina was driving, sitting pretty at the UF 19-yard line.
Quarterback Jake Bentley stood in shotgun formation, received the snap and looked up. Markway, the tight end, was running down field uncontested.
So Bentley threw it to him.
All Florida linebackers Vosean Joseph and David Reese could do was put their hands in the air in frustration, questioning how Markway could have been so open.
It was more of the same for the first three quarters of Florida’s 35-31 win over South Carolina on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where the Gamecocks ran rampant through the Gators’ defense.
“We have to continue to be physical up front, inside,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “I think we have to do a little better job of setting edges on the perimeter against the run.”
It was only in the fourth quarter when the UF defense pressured the quarterback and shut down the run.
Markway’s catch wasn’t the only time a South Carolina receiver was open on a touchdown pass. Bentley found an Jacob August all alone in the back of the end zone on the opening drive, capping off a 13-play, 83-yard start.
UF would have been blown out from the beginning had it not been for the offense putting together some scoring drives in the second quarter.
South Carolina had five drives in the first half and three of them resulted in touchdowns. Bentley threw for 129 yards in the first half, and the Gamecocks amassed 241 yards of total offense.
Even the third quarter wasn’t that much different. Toney muffed a punt, which led to a South Carolina field goal. Gamecocks receiver Deebo Samuel took a slant pass 89 yards before being caught by CJ Henderson, and South Carolina scored two plays later on a run.
“I think our pass rush had been missing,” Mullen said. “I think we did in the second half, we got a little better pass rush, able to affect some of the timing for the quarterback.”
As much as UF struggled in through the first three quarters, it played a near perfect fourth that gave the team the chance to win.
South Carolina had three drives in the fourth quarter. The first was at the start of the quarter, where the Gators stuffed Gamecocks running back A.J. Turner twice and forced a punt.
The next drive saw South Carolina fail to move the ball past midfield after the Gators scored a touchdown to make the score 31-28. Its final drive - after UF took a 35-31 lead - saw Bentley get picked off by Henderson, ending the Gamecocks’ chances of winning.
While Florida’s defense was almost nonexistent early on, its play in the fourth quarter helped solidify the win.
Henderson, who salted away South Carolina’s last chance of the day, simply said his unit stepped up when it mattered most.
“The defense executed,” Henderson said. “Big plays happened.”
Follow Jake Dreilinger on Twitter @DreilingerJake or contact him at [email protected].