Turnovers can be a deal breaker in a close football game. Or they can become the deal breaker when a not-so-close game becomes a runaway. The thing about turnovers is they can be analyzed and you can hypothesize how much of a factor they will be in a game, but you can’t precisely predict them. That’s the magic of turnovers: they can happen at random and they have the power to irreparably change a game. This is what happened yesterday with the Florida Gators and their big home victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks were doomed by three first half turnovers that completely changed the momentum, direction, and strategies of this game. Other than these turnovers, the first half was almost dead even.
The first turnover took place on the first play from scrimmage. Gamecocks’ quarterback Connor Shaw stepped back to pass while Gators’ defender Loucheiz Purifoy blitzed unguarded. Purifoy stripped Shaw clean and the ball rolled around near the Gamecocks’ goal line before being recovered by Lerentee McCray of the Gators. Three plays later and the Gators were up 7-0.
The second turnover came after a three & out possession for the Gators. On the fourth down punt, Ace Saunders was returning the punt for the Gamecocks before being stripped clean by Trey Burton. Burton recovered the fumble for the Gators at the Gamecocks’ 29 yard-line. It took the Gators six plays to score off of this turnover, and it was a touchdown like the previous turnover turned into.
The final turnover came directly after the Gators took a 14-3 lead from the previous turnover. On the kickoff, Damiere Byrd fumbled off of a third great strip by the Gators. Chris Johnson recovered the loose ball for the Gators and nearly returned it for a touchdown, his knee touching the ground at the one yard-line. The Gators’ converted this turnover into another touchdown two plays later.
In short: the Gators had almost as many points as offensive yards when they went into the locker room at halftime. All 21 of the Gators’ first half points came off of turnovers, and the offense had not passed midfield on a possession that started in their own territory.
Because there was still an entire half to play, one might say that all these turnovers did was created a sizable deficit for the Gamecocks, and nothing more. There’s some truth to that, but to stand by that by itself would be dismissing the mental aspect of football, and what costly turnovers can do to that mental aspect of the game.
Even though the Gators hadn’t done much to deserve their big lead other than convert turnovers, they still had a big lead going into the second half. That meant that the Gamecocks were facing a two-score (at the least) deficit with one half to play. Thirty minutes in football can be an eternity. However, if it’s a major game and you are down a significant amount, thirty minutes won’t seem like enough. In the second half, the clock becomes the enemy of the team that is trailing and the more you’re trailing, the more the clock is the enemy.
Today, there was simply too much for the Gamecocks to deal with at the half. With only two quarters to reverse course from what was a disastrous first half other than on defense, and with an even more pumped up opponent holding a large lead, it was just too much. The momentum wasn’t there and they couldn’t do anything immediately in the second half to reverse it. After that, the Gamecocks finally relinquished any momentum or will to win that they had left and the Gators cruised.