“Special” , it’s a word that has very specific meaning in the English language. One of Webster’s definitions of special is, “Limited in range; confined to a definite field of action, investigation, or discussion” This is what is meant by the football term “special teams”. It’s the part of the game that is neither offense nor defense but is limited to kickoffs and punts. Another definition is, “Particular; peculiar; different from others; extraordinary; uncommon“. This definition can surely be applied to the Gators special teams units and the Gator football team overall.
All season the Gators special teams have indeed been special. Whether it was Kyle Christy flipping field position with his booming punts or dropping them inside the ten yard line keeping teams pinned back. Or the Gators coverage team led by Loucheiz Purifoy covering punts with speed, aggressiveness, and hard hits limiting returns. And then there’s Caleb Sturgis who has been money on field goals hitting three from over 50 yards and whose only two misses were partially blocked and booming high deep kickoffs preventing opponents from making big plays on returns. Yes the Gat0rs special teams have been “special”. Yesterday, they were “extraordinary”.
The Gators punt and kick coverage teams were amazing yesterday holding the nation’s most electric punt returner Ace Sanders to 1 yard on 2 returns and the team to -13 yards total. Their kick team who repeatedly took kickoffs out of the endzone only averaged 16 yards giving up 9 yards in the process. The Gators forced three fumbles on kickoff and punt returns recovering two leading to 14 early points forcing the Gamecocks to play from behind, a difficult task on the road in the SEC. Throw in a forced fumble by Loucheiz Purifoy on the first play from scrimmage which the Gators converted into 7 points and the Gators basically had the game won in the first half. Stat of the game: In the first half the Gators had almost as much points (21) as yards (29) and as many turnovers (3) as the Gamecocks had points (3).
As important, and perhaps even more important, was the play of punter Kyle Christy who averaged an “extraordinary” 54 yards on 7 punts. To say he’s a weapon would be the understatement of the year. For a program that has a long history of great punters, I truly believe Christy is the best. Distance, hang time, and the ability to drop the ball inside the ten yard line are his hallmarks. In the SEC it’s hard to put together 80+ yard drives. Yesterday with Christy booming them high and deep South Carolina was unable to do it at all settling for field goals and never really getting a whiff of the endzone. CBS play by play man Verne Lundquist and analyst Gary Danielson actually named Christy as the co-player of the game which is pretty much unheard of.
For the second week in a row the Gator special teams got their hands on a field goal attempt. In the first quarter with the Gators clinging to a 7-3 lead South Carolina set up on a 45 yard field goal attempt. Shariff Floyd came busting up the middle to deflect the Gamecock field goal attempt and preserve the Gator lead. On the ensuing three and out by the Gators they forced a fumble on the return which led to their second touchdown of the game.
Not to be outdone, the return team, which has been the weak link of Gator special teams to this point, got in on the fun as well. After a first half where the Gator offense was anemic at best, Andre Debose took the opening kickoff of the 2nd half 39 yards to set the Gators up on a short field sparking the offense and leading to a touchdwn which basically put the game away at 28-6. In the fourth quarter after the Gamecocks were once again held to a field goal they attempted an on-side kick which Jordan Reed fielded and returned 35 yards setting the Gators up for their final score of the game.
Overall, the Gators special teams, except for a blocked extra point, played perfect yesterday and were the difference in the game. The old saying is that special teams is one third of the game. Yesterday they were more like 44 percent, along with the stout Gator defense, and were the major reason the Gators dominated South Carolina 44-11 despite rushing for less than 100 yards and having less than 200 yards of total offense. They showed why this special teams unit isn’t just special but EXTRAORDINARY!