COLUMBIA, S.C. — The frustration of Florida’s fading season was evident on coach Will Muschamp’s bandaged and bloodied right hand.
The third-year Gators coach took questions after his team’s fifth-straight loss, a 19-14 defeat to No. 11 South Carolina on Saturday night, with two fingers bandaged and a third knuckle bloodied after he struck a chalk board at halftime.
Tailback Mack Brown didn’t see Muschamp’s punch. “I heard it, though,” he said.
At least Muschamp won’t miss any games, unlike most every other Florida player who gets banged up these days. The Gators came into this one without leading tackler Antonio Morrison (knee), their 10th player to go with a season-ending injury, and quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder).
Muschamp started third-string freshman Skyler Mornhinweg, a freshman who’d yet to take a college snap before Saturday.
Still, the Gators (4-6, 3-5 SEC) relied an opportunistic run game and their Southeastern Conference leading defense to keep in front for most of the game until South Carolina’s defense tightened up for its record-setting 16th straight home victory.
Muschamp received support this week from Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and University President Bernie Machen. But it was clear the coach was bothered by the harsh words of critics.
“You can say what you want say, you can write whatever in the hell you want to write. It’s frustrating for that locker room,” Muschamp said. “Forget me. These kids have fought their butts off. Our fans need to get a grip.”
Florida played hard enough, especially on defense, to get the victory. Instead, the Gators on their longest losing streak since losing nine in a row during the 0-10-1 debacle of 1979. They’ll need to close the season by beating Georgia Southern and No. 2 Florida State or their 22-year bowl run will be over.
“They can criticize me all they want,” Muschamp said. “They pay me enough money for that. Those kids don’t deserve it. Nobody has ever questioned their effort. We just didn’t get it done.”
The Gators were also minus starting cornerback Marcus Roberson, who the team said was suspended for violating team rules.
Florida did its best not to overwhelm Mornhinweg, whose father Marty is the offensive coordinator of the New York Jets, in his first college action. Burton, a receiver, ran the wildcat formation and the Gators ran 22 of 24 plays.
Mornhinweg was 10 of 13 for 107 yards with an interception.
Elliott Fry made field goals of 25, 45, 22 and 43 yards, the last two in the final quarter to lift the Gamecocks. Bruce Ellington had South Carolina’s lone touchdown, a 32-yard grab from Connor Shaw on fourth down to cut Florida’s 14-6 halftime lead to one point.
South Carolina’s defense, scorched by the Florida run game in the opening half, stiffened in the second half to send the Gators to their fifth straight loss, their longest such streak since losing nine in a row during the 0-10-1 debacle of 1979.
“Somehow or another, it worked out again,” Spurrier said.
The Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) struggled to score points against the Gators’ SEC-leading defense until Fry gave them a 16-14 lead with a 22-yard field goal with 6:43 remaining.
Trailing 19-14, Mornhinweg led the Gators into South Carolina territory but was intercepted by Jimmy Legree to end the threat.
The Gamecocks’ win surpassed the 15 straight the program won at home from 1978-80 when Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers was leading the way. South Carolina’s 16 straight in its home stadium is longest current streak in the country.
But Florida sure looked ready to end it the way it played in the first half. Without injured starting quarterback Tyler Murphy, the Gators successfully went to the run. They ran for 169 yards in the opening half and Kelvin Taylor had rushing TDs of 20 and 29 yards, the two longest permitted by South Carolina this season. Florida, though, had just 31 yards rushing the last two quarters.
“We kept ourselves alive” in the SEC East race, quarterback Connor Shaw said. “I’m proud of our guys for battling back. You can’t count us out at Williams-Brice.”
Florida had its chances. The Gators to South Carolina’s 8 after the Gamecocks’ touchdown, yet Austin Hardin missed a 32-yard field goal.
Florida tried a fake punt play on fourth-and-13 and trailing 16-14, but Trey Burton’s pass to defensive lineman Leon Orr was knocked away with 4:40 remaining.