First things first, the Gamecocks' victory over the Florida Gators in the Swamp was a huge win for the program. While the win doesn't erase the disappointment of the season, it does go a major step toward making sure the season isn't a complete disaster. With the team now at 5-5 and South Alabama coming up, it's now very likely that the program will achieve bowl eligibility this season, keeping alive its streak of being bowl eligible every year since 2004. Getting to a minor bowl was not the benchmark for success for this team, but it's much better than the alternative. This is particularly true given that the Gamecocks have already seen a couple of key prospects decommit. The coaches have their hands full keeping this class together, and bowl eligibility will give them another tool they can use to do that.
The win also gives Carolina fans some hope for a defensive turnaround over the last few games. Granted, Florida is a very mediocre, one-dimensional team offensively, but the Carolina defense had been ravaged by poor offenses before. Given how poorly our defensive line has played this season, I felt sure that Florida--whose offense had improved somewhat over the past two games--would dominate us with its power running game. That didn't happen, though, with the Gamecocks holding the Gators to 4.4 yards per rush and only a little better per pass. The defensive line played better, and the move to play Skai Moore at Mike and Jonathan Walton at Will paid off. Moore played a very good game from the middle, and while Walton missed a few tackles, he made his share of plays. This duo is the best we've had at the two positions this season.
Offensively, the game was a mixed bag. The Gamecocks came out moving the ball very well in the first quarter. As the game progressed, though, the Florida defense tightened up. The Gamecocks found it tough to run against a stingy Florida front. Dylan Thompson got a bit jittery in the pocket and misfired a few of his throws. The Gamecocks found it difficult to convert manageable third downs. What's more, they had to deal with a lot of self-inflicted wounds such as bad snaps and a variety of mistakes by Shaq Roland (who was benched late in the game). In short, the Gamecocks' offense sputtered throughout the final three quarters. However, defense and special teams did their part to give the Gamecocks the opportunity to get Carolina back into the game in the final minutes and in the overtime period, and Carolina succeeded in doing so. A lot of credit has to go to Mike Davis, who fought hard for his yardage in a game where there weren't a lot of huge running lanes, as well as to Thompson, who after being criticized all season for not keeping the ball on the zone-read finally kept it on the game-winning touchdown.
The win gives the Gamecocks a little momentum heading into the final games. Next week's home closer against South Alabama provides a nice opportunity for Carolina to get the offense back on track and to further refine the new defensive lineup. The rivalry game with Clemson will be another test for the Carolina offense (CU is solid defensively), but without Deshaun Watson, the Tigers are struggling on offense, and Carolina should be able to continue to have success on defense against whatever QB the Tigers trot out. A sixth-straight win over the Tigers would do a lot to assuage the pain we've experienced this season.