Turnovers fuel blowout win for Florida

Turnovers fuel blowout win for Florida

The Florida defensive players heard about it all offseason. Turnovers. It didn't matter how well the Gators played on defense during the 2011 season. They weren't able to match their potential because they couldn't take the ball away. That has changed this season, no more visibly than Saturday in The Swamp as the Gators created four turnovers to set the offense up with good field position.

Florida finished the 2011 season ranked 114th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Gators came into Saturday's matchup with South Carolina ranked 14th in the country at +7. Those numbers were padded against the Gamecocks, as Florida forced four turnovers while not committing one.

"I don't know if anyone (teaches) it better than Dan Quinn and our defensive staff," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. "We're being cognizant of taking the ball off people. In every meeting, we spend a lot of time just talking about stripping the ball off people who don't have it high and tight. Constantly it's pounded into their head.

"Last season, we emphasized it but obviously didn't do a good enough job. You self-evaluate as a coach on what you can do better. It was a point of emphasis for us in the offseason."

It's not just on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, Loucheiz Purifoy gets all the focus because of his forced fumble on the first play of the game that gave the Gators the momentum, but the lesson has been team wide. The Gators use offensive players on special teams, and Trey Burton and Solomon Patton each forced key fumbles in the first half.

Burton's strip of dynamic punt returner Ace Sanders set the Gators up for a touchdown, and on the ensuing kickoff, Patton stripped Bruce Ellington to set up another touchdown. The Florida defense needed the lesson in stripping the ball after last season, but even the offensive players came up big on Saturday.

It all goes into the style of play that Muschamp wants to see on the field.

"We've done a pretty good job with ball security offensively," Muschamp said. "We need to be good in turnover margin. We're not a good enough team to go out and be careless with the ball and not gain positive field position for our football team.

"We don't have a lot of margin for error here. We're a team that's playing defense pretty decent at times and pretty consistent. On offense, we're doing what we have to do to take advantage of the other team and give us an opportunity to win the game. That's who we are."

PAYBACK DELIVERED: Revenge was a topic with the Florida players all week. Whether it was for the low feeling after getting manhandled in Columbia last year or dropping the SEC East to South Carolina after getting pummeled in Gainesville in 2010, the Gators felt like they owed something to South Carolina.

"We've got a bunch of guys in the locker room that were there in Columbia, Auburn and Jacksonville," Muschamp said. "We have drawn from motivation of that. You do that as a coach—find out what motivates your guys. We've got a bunch of competitive guys in the locker room that rallied around a little bit. There's an extra sense of motivation each week."

Once momentum started to role in Florida's favor, the Gators didn't take the foot off the gas pedals. It wasn't about embarrassment. Florida just had things that needed to improve, like the passing game.

In the end, the game plan was still the same. It's the same it will always be under Muschamp.

"You wear the defense down," he said. "That's who we are. We try to wear people out. The third quarter was huge."

The stadium atmosphere played a big part in it. The Florida defense had energy throughout the game, and the head coach didn't think that was a coincidence.

"I want to credit our fans," Muschamp said. "We have the best crowd in ball. To go out in that stadium and environment to play and coach—it's a lot of fun. We've given them something to cheer about. We didn't give them a lot to cheer about last year, so that's good to be able to go out and get them excited."

CLOWNEY DOMINATED: The stat sheet is deceptive of what Jadeveon Clowney did on Saturday. He had two tackles for a loss, including one sack, and was fourth on the team with five tackles. Clowney made a bigger impact than that.

The sophomore defensive end lived in the backfield.

"Clowney is a phenomenal football player," Muschamp said. "We had him doubled one time and he split us for a sack. We did have eyes on him. He took advantage of some things."

The Gators have faced elite defensive fronts in two of their last three games. LSU has two future NFL defensive ends in Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. It didn't get any easier for Florida with Clowney.

"Those are first round draft picks being drafted," Muschamp said." They're not good players. They're really, really good players. Come April, they'll be building houses for their parents."

BRISSETT GETS IN: After losing the battle for the starting job during the Bowling Green game, Florida sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett has only played against Kentucky. Muschamp felt like Saturday was an opportunity to change that.

Brissett didn't throw a pass, only handing off to freshman running back Matt Jones for his first career touchdown, but the goal was to get him involved.

"He deserved it," Muschamp said. "The game was in hand, but I'd put him out there regardless of the situation. He deserved to play. It was good to see him play."

Playing on Saturday eliminated the chance that Brissett can take a redshirt this season.

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