CFB: No. 1 Florida stays perfect in SEC
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tim Tebow tied the Southeastern Conference touchdown record and No. 1 Florida gained its first perfect league season in 13 years with a 24-14 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.
The Gators (10-0, 8-0) remained on track for a third national title in four years. They again called on their SEC-leading defense to save things against former coach Steve Spurrier, who looked like he'd figured out a few cracks in Florida's front line.
Down 17-14, South Carolina (6-5, 3-5) drove 48 yards to Florida's 22. But defensive lineman Justin Trattou intercepted Stephen Garcia and brought it back 53 yards. Tebow cashed in the touchdown four plays later, a 1-yard burst that was the 53rd of his SEC career to match LSU great Kevin Faulk.
Florida hadn't gone undefeated in the SEC regular season since Spurrier's 1996 national champions.
This time, South Caorlina coach Spurrier could only throw off his headset in frustration at another close call against his old school.
Ahead 24-14 after Tebow's score, Florida's defense got after the Gamecocks. The Gators sacked Garcia four times in the fourth quarter. Joe Haden's interception with two minutes left sealed Florida's 20th straight victory — and fourth in a row over its former head ball coach.
Next up is No. 2 Alabama in the SEC championship game in three weeks. A win there and Gators again match Spurrier's 1996 team.
Three years ago, defensive lineman Jarvis Moss blocked a field goal that saved Florida's 17-16 win over South Carolina and, eventually, brought a national championship.
Tebow ended 14 of 25 for 199 passing, including a 68-yard touchdown throw to Riley Cooper.
Florida's defense held South Carolina to 247 yards, the Gamecocks fewest in four games.
Tebow had led blowouts of Spurrier's Gamecocks the past two years. In 2007, Tebow wrapped up the Heisman Trophy when he accounted for 424 yards and seven touchdowns in the 51-31 victory in the Gators' last visit to Williams-Brice Stadium.
Then last season, Florida handed Spurrier the most-lopsided loss of his stellar career, 56-6.
Things looked like they might be as easy for the Gators this time, too, as they scored on their first three series. After Tebow's touchdown pass to Cooper, Caleb Sturgis had a 32-yard field goal and Emmanuel Moody broke two tackles during his 17-yard scoring run.
That's usually more than enough for Florida's D, second in the country at just more than 10 points allowed a game.
But Spurrier, back in full command of the offense, found a way to make Florida sweat.
He called a fake punt on South Carolina's opening series, Spencer Lanning throwing a perfect pass to wide open D.J. Swearinger. An illegal shift penalty, though, negated the first down.
The Gamecocks tied it at 7-all with a 14-play, 84-yard drive finished by Brian Maddox's 1-yard TD run. It was the junior's first score in eight games.
Garcia went 5 of 5 on South Carolina's other first-half scoring drive, hitting Weslye Saunders with a 9-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone.
Garcia gave a military salute to the South Carolina sidelines after that score, keeping with the theme of the day.
The Gamecocks wore black camouflage jerseys with values such as "Courage," ''Integrity," and "Service" on the back instead of names to honor veterans hurt defending the United States. The effort was sponsored by The Wounded Warrior Project and Under Armour.
Garcia had seemingly put himself in line as one of South Carolina's alltime heroes when he sidestepped two Florida tacklers to pick up a first down on fourth-and-2. Two plays later, though, came Trattou's game-turning interception.