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Florida Gators defense makes big plays to kick off romp

GAINESVILLE — No. 3 Florida's offense was struggling. The punt blocks that had become routine were nonexistent. For the first 10:23, the Gators were being shut out.

Forty-five seconds later, the game's momentum had shifted.

Brandon Spikes and Ahmad Black made interceptions on back-to-back South Carolina possessions Saturday to jolt the Gators en route to a 56-6 rout of the No. 24 Gamecocks.

Spikes returned his for a touchdown from 12 yards out. Black's led to a score on Florida's next offensive play when Percy Harvin ran it in from 26 yards.

"In the Swamp, if you make a mistake, we'll make you pay for it," Spikes said.

Both turnovers were set up by linebacker Brandon Hicks, who switched from weakside to strongside just last week. Hicks played strongside last season but had to reprise his role because of an injury to Tampa native A.J. Jones.

On third and 5 in the first quarter, the sophomore pressured quarterback Chris Smelley into throwing off his back foot as Hicks closed in on him in the end zone. Spikes snatched the ball out of the air and scampered untouched into the end zone.

The next time South Carolina had the ball, Hicks was back at it. He blitzed off the right edge and threw up his arms as Smelley attempted to pass.

The ball grazed Hicks' hands and into the waiting arms of Black, who collected his team-leading sixth interception.

"The sky's the limit with him," Spikes said of Hicks. "You really don't know what he can do. As the season progresses, he's turned into a really dependable guy."

This all from a defense that felt it had something to prove despite going in fourth nationally in points allowed (11.9). Coaches and media instead talked about South Carolina's defense, which entered leading the SEC and No. 3 in the country in total defense (256.5 yards per game).

"We heard about that all week," Hicks said. "They came out saying they were the best defense (in the SEC), and we felt like we had something to prove and show America that we're the best defense."

Florida allowed only 173 yards, forced 10 punts and held the Gamecocks to 1-of-15 on third-down conversions.

Now the comparisons have begun between this Gators defense and the one two years ago that played an integral part in a national title.

"We're just playing out of our minds right now," cornerback Joe Haden said.

Florida Gators defense makes big plays to kick off romp 11/15/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 15, 2008 9:51pm]
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