The Gamecocks had to get off to a good start and they had to keep it a game going to the fourth quarter.
One of those things happened, the other didn’t.
The Gamecocks broke off a 76-yard play on their first snap from scrimmage, but nothing much else went right for them offensively, and they lost to the Gators 23-0 in the Gamecocks’ season finale.
The shut out ended a streak of 133 games without being blanked, the longest streak in the Ohio Valley Conference. The last time the Gamecocks failed to score in a game was Nov. 18, 2000, at Troy (28-0) — the last game of JSU coach Jack Crowe’s first season with the program.
The Gamecocks were shut out two other times that season.
“I don’t know if we could’ve scored on them,” Crowe said. “But if we were going to have a goose-egg, it needs to be against the quality of a team that they are.
“As good as I thought they were on defense, I think they’re better than I thought they were after playing them.”
The Gamecocks (6-5) had their best chance to get points on the Gators in the first half, but Griffin Thomas missed two field goal attempts.
The junior was wide left on a 25-yarder on that opening possession that would have put JSU ahead 3-0 and was wide right on a 36-yarder late in the second quarter that would have made it 10-3.
“The first one I just didn’t connect with the ball at all very well,” Thomas said. “The second one felt good and just came off a little to the right and barely missed.
“I was really disappointed after the first one and felt the same way after the second. I was trying to get another chance to do something.”
But it never came.
The Gamecocks never crossed midfield again after Thomas’ second missed attempt. In fact, the Gators (10-1), one of the best defensive teams in the country, held JSU to only 38 net yards in the second half.
They came into the game ranked first in pass efficiency defense, third in scoring defense and fifth overall — and did nothing to hurt their position.
JSU managed only 48 yards rushing, its lowest output since being held to 28 by Eastern Kentucky November 2010. Ivory, Steven Coates and Alan Bonner were a combined 16 of 28 for 194 passing. Coty Blanchard played but did not attempt a pass.
The Gamecocks did get to the 50 once in the second half — in the fourth quarter — but Damarcus James was thrown for a loss on the next play.
“I didn’t think we had sparks,” Crowe said. “We had plays and they’re the plays they give you and dare you to take them, but if you’re going to score any points you have to have a spark and … after that (first) play I don’t think there was another play that sparked us probably the rest of the day.
“It was frustrating for me, honestly, that we just couldn’t create a spark.”
The Gamecocks couldn’t have opened the game any better. On their first play from scrimmage Kevyn Cooper took a swing pass from Marques Ivory, rolled off the back Florida cornerback Marcus Robinson and dashed 76 yards down the sideline before being caught at by Jonathan Bostic at the 7
Confusion getting players into the package forced the Gamecocks to take an immediate timeout and it cost whatever momentum they might have gained by the big first play. A run by Alan Bonner gained one yard, Ivory had a pass batted at the line and Ivory lost two yards on third down.
“It would have been good to get something early, like trying to catch them off guard, but it didn’t happen,” Ivory said.
“All we needed to be able to do was break that plane,” Cooper said. “I think that’s the only thing we needed. We’d have had more confidence.”
The JSU defense did all it could to keep the Gamecocks in it. The Gators have just enough offense to support their defense and drove the ball 90 yards after Griffin’s first missed field goal to score the game’s first touchdown.
It was a 7-yard run up the middle by Mike Gillislee, but it was the only offensive touchdown the Gamecocks allowed in the game. Gillislee rushed for 122 yards on 20 carries. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, playing in place of injured starter Jeff Driskel, completed 14 of 22 passes for 154 yards.
“I thought we played extremely hard,” Crowe said. “It was obvbious to me they were going to run the ball and control … all the framework that goes along with winning a football game. Will (Muschamp, Florida’s coach) is not trying to get style points, he’s trying to get championships and sometimes those things go against each other.
“Their style was just to control the ball, keep it away from us. We probably had it as much as they did, but they clearly controlled the game from beginning to end.”
The rest of the Gators’ points came on Jonathan Bostic’s 7-yard interception return in the third quarter and three Caleb Sturgis field goals.
Sturgis made kicks from 21, 44 and 47 yards. JSU senior Brooks Robinson blocked another 27-yard attempt in the second quarter to keep the game 10-0.
“We were really aggressive, we didn’t back down from anybody,” said linebacker Ben Endress, the Gamecocks’ leading tackler in the game (8). “That’s the way you have to play, especially against teams like Florida. We’re FCS playing against them, we have to make a statement right off the bat, and I think we did that.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.