HOW 2 BLOCKED KICKS CHANGED THE COACHING DESTINIES AT FLORIDA, USC
Nov. 15, 2014 is a day University of Florida and South Carolina football fans should remember given their respective teams’ current status.
On that memorable afternoon in The Swamp, the Gamecocks pulled out an improbable 23-20 overtime win over the Gators.
A quick recap. Trailing by 17-10 with under 3:30 left, South Carolina blocked a 32-yard field goal which would given Florida a 10-point lead.
The Gamecocks turned the ball over on downs on their next possession. With 39 seconds left, they forced a punt as the Gators looked to run out the clock with 3 straight running backs.
Carlton Heard made a name for himself by blocking Kyle Christy’s punt. Jasper Sasser made the recovery and South Carolina tied the game 4 plays later on Mike Davis’ 4-yard run to force overtime.
Florida settled for a field goal on its 1st possession. This opened the door for a South Carolina victory as quarterback Dylan Thompson raced into the endzone on a keeper for the 23-20 win.
On the surface, the onfield outcome seemed cut and dry.
Upon further review, history shows that the winner and loser were misplaced at best. This is especially true given where the 2 programs are at this moment.
It all started with the head coaches on that fateful day. Speculation on the futures of both Will Muschamp of Florida and Steve Spurrier of South Carolina were a storyline coming into the contest.
The Gators had 12 of their last 21 games entering the game, while Spurrier’s 10th season in Garnet and Black was a far cry from his 3 straight 11-win seasons.
As it turned out, Florida wasted little time parting ways with Muschamp a day after the loss. Meanwhile, Spurrier reaffirmed his commitment to return the following season.
Gamecock fans know how that turned out with Spurrier’s resignation by mid-October 2015 with a 2-4 overall record. After finishing the season with Shawn Elliott, South Carolina decided to give Muschamp a 2nd chance in the SEC.
On Sunday, the Muschamp era came to an abrupt end 7 games into his 5th season and the team reeling from a 3-game losing skid in which it had allowed an average of 53 points per game. University of South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner announced Muschamp's dismissal, effective immediately. Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo will serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
"After a thorough assessment of our football program, we have decided to make a change with the head football coach," Tanner said. "I appreciate all that Will Muschamp has done for our program and wish him and his family the best moving forward. I believe our program will be well served by Coach Bobo as the interim head coach as we search for a new leader for Gamecock Football."
Muschamp finished with a 28-30 record with the Gamecocks.
As for Florida, Dan Durkin coached the final game of the 2014 season (a win). Jim McElwain went 34-22 in 3 seasons before he was relieved of his duties in 2017. Randy Shannon coached the final 4 games before the Gators hired current head coach Dan Mullen.
As of today, the Gators are ranked 6th and are headed to the SEC Championship game. The Gamecocks need 2 wins to avoid a 3rd straight season of declining victories.
Yet one wonders how the historic trajectory of Florida and South Carolina would have changed if the results were reversed.
If the Gators held on for victory, would they had given Muschamp 1 more season?
Conversely, would Spurrier had decided to call it a career following a victory at the place he won a Heisman Trophy? Those scenarios would have taken Muschamp out of a USC hiring search and perhaps South Carolina would have found a candidate who could have taken the program back to the heights of 2010-12.
Then again, because of the talent pool and tradition, Florida would have always found a way back into prominence quicker than South Carolina. Perhaps obtaining similar long-term success will always be a challenge in Columbia.
At the same time, I can only think of the line boxing writer great Bert Sugar used to describe the 1st Ali-Frazier fight.
“That night winner was the loser and the loser was the winner,” he said.
It’s hard not to see otherwise looking back on that November day in Gainesville, Fla.