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October 21, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The litany of breakdowns by South Carolina's special teams and the integral role they had in Saturday's 44-11 loss to Florida would make admirers of "War and Peace" envious.
The most glaring - fumbles by Ace Sanders and Damiere Byrd within a span of 3 1-2 minutes in the latter stages of the second quarter - gifted two touchdowns to the Gators, and quickly ballooned USC's halftime deficit to at 21-3.
Moments after Connor Shaw's fumble on USC's first offensive snap of the game had led to a short Florida touchdown pass, Bruce Ellington was separated from the football at the 21-yard-line on the ensuing kickoff. But disaster was averted when the Gamecocks recovered.
USC's kickoff coverage unit faltered again, allowing Florida to average 37 yards on a pair of kickoff returns. As a result, the Gamecocks' net kickoff average was a lowly 15 yards.
The Gamecocks botched an onside kick in the fourth quarter, allowing Florida to grab the ball and return it to the USC 11.
USC was out-punted by a margin of 14.7 yards per punt. Over the course of an entire game, that's a significant difference in yardage.
The good news? Adam Yates made 3-of-4 field goals and Victor Hampton returned a blocked PAT nearly the length of the field for a rare defensive two-pointer.
However, the negatives far outweighed the positives in the view of coach Steve Spurrier, who suggested that massive personnel changes, including the deployment of more first-team players, could be on the way.
"It was very disappointing the way we lost," Spurrier said on his post-game interview with the Gamecock Radio Network. "I don't know if we're playing too many guys that just can't play very well, or what."
Spurrier clearly laid the problems at the feet of the players and their lack of execution instead of first-year special teams coach Joe Robinson.
"Joe Robinson is one of the best special-teams coaches in the country," Spurrier said. "He's one of the best I've ever been around. We may need to put our starters more on special teams and try to get some guys out there that really care about what's going on. Florida's special teams clobbered us today."
Sanders, one of the SEC's top punt returners through the first seven weeks, fielded a punt at the USC 33 with under seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, but went backwards. He lost his grip on the football and a mad scramble ensued along the sidelines in front of the Florida bench.
The Gators recovered at the USC 29 and scored in six plays on a 13-yard scoring pass to Quinton Dunbar, who eluded a pair of USC tacklers on the way to the end zone.
"The guy just knocked it out. It was a good play by them," Sanders said.
Moments later, Byrd was inserted into the game as the kickoff returner. He caught the kick a yard or two inside the end zone and brought it out. However, he didn't secure a firm grip on the football and it was jarred loose. The ball was scooped up by another Gator player at the USC 14 and returned to the 1-yard-line.
Two plays later, Florida scored its second touchdown in 58 seconds on a pass to all-SEC tight end Jordan Reed.
"It was just individual guys not taking care of the ball, somehow or another," Spurrier said. "Inexcusable. That shouldn't happen. It affected the whole team. When you fumble the ball and give them touchdowns three times in the first half, that's hard to overcome because we're not a great offensive team. We don't throw it very well. And, obviously, we're not running very well right now."
Will new players cure for USC's special teams woes? Perhaps. Spurrier appears ready and willing to give some different players a look to see if they can provide a spark.
"We definitely have to change some special-teams guys," Spurrier said. "We can't watch the other team run back to the 40-yard-line every game. It's embarrassing to all of us. We'll evaluate our personnel and get some new bodies out there.
"One thing we must do is find the guys that really want to play for South Carolina. If we have to cover kickoffs with D.J. Swearinger and (Jadeveon) Clowney and Chaz Sutton, (we'll do it). We can't watch the guys that are playing right now. We can't watch these guys laying it on the ground. It was sad."
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