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Taylor-made victory

Taylor Jacobs and Rex Grossman make things look familiar at UF in Ron Zook's coaching debut.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

[Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
On UF's first offensive play, Taylor Jacobs jumps over UAB's Carlos Hendricks for a 59-yard completion.
GAINESVILLE -- It was as if Ron Zook had been waiting seven long months to say these words to the people who questioned whether he should have been hired as coach at Florida: Shut up already about Steve Spurrier and his high-powered offense.

Diplomacy required that he keep those words to himself. So he allowed the combination of quarterback Rex Grossman and receiver Taylor Jacobs to do it for him Saturday night.

Grossman threw for 337 yards and Jacobs caught eight passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns, leading No. 6 Florida to a 51-3 win against Alabama-Birmingham in front of 85,575 at Florida Field.

Jacobs, the 2001 Orange Bowl MVP who considered leaving for the NFL after Spurrier resigned, broke the Florida single-game reception record held by Carlos Alvarez (237 yards against Miami in 1969). It was the second 100-yard game of his career.

"This game was bigger for me than Miami (next week's opponent) because a lot of people didn't think I and the rest of the receivers could come out and do this," Jacobs said. "To know you can do it mentally is one thing, but now I know I can go out and do it. ... I feel like I owe it to the Florida fans to make the big plays."

For months, the biggest question surrounding the 2002 Gators was how Zook, the former defensive coordinator who once was demoted by Spurrier, was going to fare in the Gators' world where offense is king, defense a necessary evil.

Zook and the Gators wasted little time Saturday afternoon answering with an exclamation point.

One minute and 28 seconds to be exact, which is how long it took Florida to score its first touchdown in the Zook era. The Gators finished the game with 643 yards (410 passing, 233 rushing).

Florida (1-0) set the tone on the opening play, when Grossman hit Jacobs for a 59-yard pass that put the Gators on UAB's 20-yard line.

"I wanted to call a fullback draw but Jeremy Foley (UF athletic director) wouldn't let me," Zook said. " ... It's not to say we're going to start every game going downtown, but people have to realize we have the ability to do that."

Senior running back Earnest Graham scored the first touchdown for Zook on a 3-yard run with 13:32 remaining in the first quarter.

This wasn't Miami or one of the SEC teams the Gators will play down the line. But the early analysis reads like this: Spurrier is gone, but Grossman, Jacobs and the high-powered offense are still here. Florida will continue to throw as it did during the 12-year Spurrier era, and it will incorporate a running game as well.

Grossman was 16-of-26 with one interception and two touchdowns, throwing to nine receivers. Graham rushed for 182 yards on 13 carries (14-yard average) and scored two touchdowns.

Jacobs' first score came on a 45-yard pass from Grossman with 8:41 remaining in the second quarter. He scored his second touchdown on an 18-yard pass from Grossman late in the second to give the Gators a 34-0 lead.

"Our offense is geared toward one (big) receiver and if they start doubling up on him, then we go to the other guys," Grossman said. "We knew he (Jacobs) was going to have a big year."

Florida's running game produced back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter, when running back Ran Carthon scored on a 2-yard run with 14:36 remaining to give Florida a 13-0 lead. Graham followed on UF's next possession on a 21-yard run with 10:42 remaining to give the Gators a 20-0 lead.

"We went in with the mindset that we were going to run the ball first, then pass," offensive lineman Shannon Snell said. "It was amazing. Going into the game we didn't expect to brush them off the line like we did."

UAB (0-1) scored on a Jacob Hayes field goal with 8:56 remaining in the third quarter.

"Personally, I think this is the best team that we have played in my eight years as head coach," UAB coach Watson Brown said. "I thought that coming down here and I still think that. They have all the pieces."

Florida's Matt Leach increased the score to 37-3 with a 35-yard field goal in the third quarter, and Ciatrick Fason and Willie Green capped the scoring with 1-yard runs in the fourth quarter.

The Gators were not perfect. There were errant throws by Grossman, a missed extra point by Leach and a couple of shaky punts -- including a 17-yarder. There were three sacks and the few times the Gators sputtered a bit.

Lost in all the offense was the Gators' solid defensive effort. The defense held UAB to 144 rushing yards and 90 yards in the air.

"I've said all along that our defense has got a chance to be very good," Zook said.

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