Gainesville, FL (Sports Network) - Jeff Driskel registered four touchdowns on limited throws, and the third-ranked Florida Gators thumped the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks, 44-11, in a key SEC clash.
The Gators (7-0, 6-0 SEC) were an opportunistic bunch in the first half. Following the break, they were downright demonstrative. And their performance on Saturday has them in the driver's seat for the Eastern Division title.
Florida can clinch a spot in the SEC championship game by beating No. 13 Georgia next week.
Driskel finished with just 93 yards on 11-of-16 passing for Florida, which led 21-6 at halftime despite accruing only 29 yards of total offense. The difference-maker was the Gators recovering a trio of fumbles, each resulting in a touchdown.
The game's first play from scrimmage proved to be a harbinger of doom for South Carolina (6-2, 4-2), which had won 12 straight within the division and wrapped up a grueling stretch. The Gamecocks played their third straight top-10 opponent. A loss last week at then-No. 9 LSU ended a school-record 10-game winning streak.
"The only thing you can hope is that your guys give it their best shot and not just lay the ball down and basically say 'Here Florida, we don't want to win. You guys take this fumble and this fumble and this fumble.' So it was sad, and on the other side, their defense stuffed us. They stopped our running game and passing game," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
Quarterback Connor Shaw, who was benched and replaced by Dylan Thompson after halftime, fumbled to begin the contest.
Florida defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy came off the left edge unblocked and punched the ball free. Lerentee McCray pounced on the ball at the South Carolina 2-yard line, and Driskel opened the scoring with a TD pass to Jordan Reed.
The Gamecocks' next drive was extended by a roughing the snapper penalty and eventually led to a 35-yard Adam Yates field goal.
Florida looked to pad its lead late in the first quarter, but a chop block negated a 41-yard touchdown. Omarius Hines had made a spectacular one-handed grab in stride.
The Gamecocks moved the ball on their next possession and were in position to collect points. However, Yates' 45-yard kick was blocked, and more miscues soon followed for the visitors.
Florida's Trey Burton forced and recovered a fumble during a punt return. Facing a 3rd-and-4 from the South Carolina 23, the Gators recorded their maiden first down with five minutes remaining as Burton ran for a 6-yard gain.
Driskel then threw a third-down pass to Quinton Dunbar, who broke a tackle to get in for the 13-yard score.
South Carolina fumbled the ensuing kickoff and a 13-yard return by Chris Johnson set the Gators up at the one. Driskel hit Reed for a touchdown on second down to make it 21-3.
Yates closed out the first half by drilling a 51-yarder. The field goal came after an offsides penalty wiped out a Shaw interception.
Hines capped the first drive of the second half with a 6-yard TD run. The Gamecocks, though, returned a blocked extra point for a 2-point defensive conversion.
Florida went up 37-8 in the third quarter on a Caleb Sturgis 42-yard field goal and a 6-yard TD pass from Driskel to Frankie Hammond.
"The third quarter was critical. They had zero first-downs and we had 133 yards and we were able to move the ball and we saw some things during halftime that we thought we could take advantage of offensively," said Florida coach Will Muschamp.
Yates connected from 30 yards in the fourth quarter before Matt Jones capped the scoring with a 1-yard TD run.Game Notes
Florida matched last season's win total ... South Carolina beat then-No. 5
Georgia two weeks ago ... This marked the first time in the series that both
teams were ranked in the Top-10 ...The Gamecocks were aiming to beat Florida
three times in a row for the first time ... South Carolina suffered its first
loss against a division opponent since falling at Kentucky during the 2010
season ...The Gamecocks had 191 yards of offense, eight more than Florida
...Shaw completed 9-of-20 passes for 72 yards, while Thompson had 83 yards and
one interception on 8-of-20 passing.