Florida 48, South Carolina 14
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—It took 36 games and nearly three seasons for Florida coach Ron Zook to finally look like Steve Spurrier.
Chris Leak threw a career-high six touchdown passes to lead the Gators to a 48-14 rout of South Carolina on Saturday night and send Zook out with a postseason berth.
The Gators won their 16th consecutive homecoming game, beat the Gamecocks for the 14th straight time and became bowl eligible for the 14th year in row.
It also gave Zook his most lopsided Southeastern Conference victory, which came in his final home game. He was fired last month after the latest in a series of embarrassing losses.
Zook went out doing something Spurrier was known for: he ran up the score. He allowed Leak to play well into the fourth quarter and throw two touchdown passes with the game easily in hand.
Zook received a standing ovation as he left Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, walking by a banner that read: “Win one more for The Zooker.”
“It felt good,” Zook said.
Not surprisingly, he also failed to deliver a Spurrieresque retort when questioned about the late scoring.
“Around here, it’s not over until it’s over,” Zook said. “Chris is only a sophomore. It’s not like he’s a senior. But I didn’t know I had to have a rationale for it.”
Athletic director Jeremy Foley said he will ask Zook to stick around for the bowl game. Zook said he will decide after the season.
The Gamecocks (6-4, 4-4) became bowl eligible last week, and despite the loss, have a chance to finish the season on a high note next week against in-state rival Clemson.
Florida (6-4, 4-4) plays at No. 11 Florida State in the season finale. The Gators haven’t won in Tallahassee since 1986, making a victory against South Carolina almost imperative.
Leak did his part.
The sophomore finished 18-of-31 for 319 yards and didn’t give way to backup Gavin Dickey until there was less than two minutes to play.
“I thought he was off today,” Zook said. “A couple of times he had the ball and didn’t know where to throw it. But he’s a player that keeps coming back. He made six touchdown throws, and that’s great against this defense.”
The Gamecocks entered the game ranked ninth in the nation in passing defense and had given up just seven touchdown passes.
Leak’s best throw came on Florida’s opening series of the third quarter. He rolled right and threw a perfect 56-yard pass to Chad Jackson to extend Florida’s lead to 28-7.
Leak had two more beauties in the fourth. He hit Andre Caldwell in stride for a 61-yard score that made it 41-7, then found Dallas Baker wide open down the middle for a 39-yarder.
The game was over long before then, especially with the Gamecocks missing their top quarterback and wide receiver.
Starting quarterback Dondrial Pinkins re-injured his shoulder last week against Arkansas and didn’t play.
Backup Syvelle Newton got the start, but was replaced by freshman Blake Mitchell late in the third quarter after two interceptions.
Mitchell’s third pass was picked off. Newton returned in the fourth but threw his third interception. Mike Rathe, a senior who has played sparingly in his career, then took over.
“They put pressure on us, and we did not respond well,” South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said.
Making matters worse, Troy Williamson—the league’s leading receiver at 89 yards a game—sprained his left ankle and sat out much of the second half.
South Carolina scored on its second possession, then punted seven times and had four turnovers on its next 11 drives. The Gamecocks scored again with 1:48 to play.
The Gators played without linebackers Channing Crowder and Travis Harris for the second straight week, and it looked as though the Gamecocks would take advantage of their absences. They had 99 yards rushing at halftime, but too many mistakes left then in too big a hole to recover.
Leak’s first two touchdown passes came after miscues.
Jeremy Mincey intercepted a pass from Newton and returned it 23 yards, setting up a 24-yard touchdown pass from Leak to Tate Casey.
Jemalle Cornelius blocked Josh Brown’s punt three series later, and Tony Joiner recovered to set up a first-and-goal at the 9. Leak then found Ciatrick Fason in the back of the end zone.
“We were pretty successful against Chris Leak last year,” Holtz said. “The difference is time. We have to put pressure on the passer.”