Senior College Football Columnist

Aggressive Gators all over South Carolina, but can the style last?


Florida can now look ahead to its matchup with Georgia. (US Presswire)  
Florida can now look ahead to its matchup with Georgia. (US Presswire)  

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For Will Muschamp, it's never too early to go for the kill shot. Not just stick the knife in, twist it.

Florida's coach and his defensive coordinator Dan Quinn were kicking around the subject at the team hotel Saturday morning and … well, check that. Muschamp and Quinn never kick anything around lightly. The conversation had turned to kicking South Carolina's behind before behinds had settled into seats.

"We said, 'Let's bring the pressure,' Muschamp said.

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The pair is sort of a new Lennon-McCartney in a lockdown league that knows a little bit about defense. Following Florida's 44-11 bombing of the Gamecocks, the Gators have yet to give up a touchdown in three SEC home games. Florida had all of 29 yards at halftime and still led by 15. Alabama may be jealous of the defensive rise out of Gainesville but the way things are going all those issues will be settled.

If there are any among you at this point who don't believe the Tide and Gators are going to meet in Atlanta, please leave the tailgate.

Saturday's kill shot in question showed the only one with smarts may not be Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

Muschamp is an SEC veteran who has had to dial down his on-field persona from 11 to, oh, 10 as the face of the program. Quinn is a 10-year NFL veteran who came to Florida with Muschamp in 2011. If there is a better defensive combo in the country, it resides in Tuscaloosa. And like we said, Atlanta awaits.

The only negative label that can be attached to the new regime, then, is perhaps impatience. Wait, you mean everyone doesn't blitz the left cornerback leaving 83 yards of open field in front of him on the first play from scrimmage?

The simple answer is no. The Muschamp/Quinn answer is: Hell, yes. Lost in Florida's decimation of No. 9 South Carolina will be the result of that first snap. It came from the Gamecocks' 17 yard line. Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy launched himself with perfect timing from his spot about 10 yards from South Carolina's Connor Shaw. Purifoy arrived so quickly that the Gamecocks' quarterback didn't have time to get to the duck-and-cover position.

"He stuck the ball out," Purifoy said. "He shouldn't have done that. I got his hand."

Strip, Purifoy. Recovery, Florida. Three plays, two yards and 59 seconds into the game, the Gators had their first touchdown in an easy win that put them in control of the SEC East. So much in control that they can clinch the division next week against Georgia at the Cocktail Party.

"One play," said a thoroughly disgusted Steve Spurrier, "doesn't decide the entire game."

Wanna bet? It at least set the merciless tone. Two weeks ago South Carolina was the toast of college football after beating Georgia by 28. Fourteen days now seems like 14 years. The net effect of road trips to LSU and Florida in back-to-back weeks has been six South Carolina turnovers. There were four here on Saturday.

"Here Florida, we don't want to win," Spurrier said sarcastically. "You guys take this fumble and this fumble and this fumble."

Violators, Purifoy called them, opposing offensive players who don't keep the ball secured.

"High and tight, like they're supposed to," said the sophomore from Pensacola, Fla. "They're [South Carolina] all violators, you can tell."

And there wasn't much argument from anywhere. Purifoy's play wasn't totally high risk. His receiver was covered over the top by a safety. It was the audacity that Muschamp/Quinn would go for a big play at the risk of a big play. South Carolina went on to fumble four times, losing three. Once by Shaw, once on a kickoff return by Damiere Byrd and once a punt return by Victor Hampton.

Florida's Jeff Driskel threw four touchdown passes, while passing for only 93 yards. Defense and special teams had done their jobs so thoroughly that he was on the field for a total of eight snaps on his three first-half touchdown passes.

"When we go out and play we try to show them how it felt for us last year," Purifoy said.

That would be zero Florida wins in October of 2011 while South Carolina was sprinting to a school-record 11 wins. Win No. 9 was 17-12 over Florida.

"If they want a fistfight, if they want a physical game we're going to give it to them," Purifoy said.

The question now is whether Florida can continue to win this way. Win with what is now somewhat of a one-sided team. Win, big. Win the SEC. That's a good place to start because the Gators -– if they weren't already -- now must be anointed No. 1 Alabama's chief competition in the conference, if not the country. At the same time, they are far from a complete team. A 21-6 halftime lead was nice, but not totally digestible.

The Gators were outgained 191-183. Those first-half 29 yards came on 26 snaps. The Muschamp-fueled aggression just happens to be more intense on the defensive side at the moment -- and probably forever while he's here.

"Our style of ball will continue to evolve," Muschamp said. "It's who we are at this point. We seem to play to our opponent. That's good or bad. We'd like to be more consistent."

The Gators have to project forward to determine if an offense that's still finding itself can finish the deal. While his teammates were giving the game away, South Carolina's unstoppable defensive end Jadeveon Clowney added some zeroes to his first NFL contract despite a sore foot.

"We want to be more balanced, we want to vertically stretch the field," Muschamp said. "Look at the defense we played in LSU and South Carolina. Those are first-round draft picks … They're not good players. They're really good players. Come April they'll be building houses for their parents."

Some of South Carolina's performance can be laid on the cumulative effect of playing three consecutive top 10 SEC teams. Spurrier changed quarterbacks -- Dylan Thompson played the second half -- and opened the door to a quarterback controversy.

"Maybe we just need to say, 'Hey, we can't throw the ball anymore," Spurrier said. "We have to run three [downs] and punt."

Spurrier has been talking about it since the SEC spring meetings back in May. Not only did his team have to play LSU from the West Division (Georgia didn't), it had to endure this epic three-game slog. Yes, the schedule is unfair.

"Life," South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward reminded, "is not fair."

The worst that can happen is Florida heading to Jacksonville No. 2 in the BCS (going into Sunday) still trying to figure itself out. Can the Gators continue to win like this? Win, big. Win with defense setting up short fields against a team like -- oh, Alabama? Win the SEC?

"We'll find out," Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said, "at the end of the year."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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