COLUMBIA, S.C. - Florida knew the battle it was facing Saturday night when it stepped into Williams-Brice Stadium, and that battle had as much to do with its own locker room as it did No. 11 South Carolina.
Injuries have been a story all season for the Gators, but they have never been worse than they were against the Gamecocks. Florida was missing its usual 10 players out for the season, plus pseudo starting quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder), junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (suspension) and left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee).
"This is not excuses. It's real," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "It really is. You can say what you want to say and you can write whatever the hell you want to write, but it's real. It's frustrating. It's frustrating for that locker room."
It was that kind of frustration that led Muschamp to punch "a chalk board" at halftime and cut his hand, which was bandaged after the game.
"Dumb," he sighed.
Frustration that stemmed from a shorthanded offense getting stripped even further to its core, starting a redshirt freshman quarterback who had never taken a collegiate snap and started the season as a third-string emergency option. Florida knew what it had - and didn't have - in Skyler Mornhinweg, so offensive coordinator Brent Pease scripted an offense straight out of the early 20th century.
The Gators threw the ball twice in the first half against 21 run plays. Mornhinweg wasn't ask to attempt a pass longer than five yards until the fourth quarter. The damndest thing of all? It almost worked.
Florida led 14-6 at halftime thanks to an overachieving offensive line that shrugged off injuries, went all hands on deck and pushed freshman Kelvin Taylor to touchdown runs of 20 and 29 yards - both on direct snaps. The Gators ran 11 wildcat plays to offset an inexperienced quarterback.
Muschamp's defense made stops when it counted in the red zone, keeping the Gamecocks to five field goal attempts with only one offensive touchdown.
"We had a meeting, a team meeting and Muschamp talked to us," junior running back Mack Brown said. "He said just remember your name on your back and the Gator on your shirt."
"We followed the script in what we felt like we needed to do to win the game. Ball possession, field position, eat the clock, good defense." Muschamp said. "Extremely proud of our players and the way they continued to fight in the game. A lot of negativity out there, and these guys pulled together and showed you what those guys are about."
Three days after receiving a statement from Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and UF president Bernie Machen, Muschamp thanked both publicly for seeing the big picture and understanding "what's right." He pointed to nights like Saturday and a season of setbacks to describe the circumstances in which his team finds itself.
Muschamp's voice lifted above quiet dejection as he pointed to the players he represents and shared his thoughts on the ever-growing "outside" that tends to be most suffocating in a 4-6 season.
"To hell with me. I worry about the kids," Muschamp said. "These kids have fought their butts off. There's a lot of negativity out there, and some of our fans need to get a grip. They really do. They've got a bunch of kids in that locker room fighting their butts off. They can criticize me all they want. I can deal with that. They pay me enough money to deal with that. Those kids don't."