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Florida remedies few weaknesses

UF 34, OHIO 6: Gators appear sluggish against pass-deficient Bobcats.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002

[Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
Ohio quarterback Dontrell Jackson rushes for part of his 75 first-half yards.
GAINESVILLE -- As 41-point underdogs, Ohio was supposed to serve as the sacrificial lamb for Florida as it attempted to heal wounds from last week's 41-16 beating by Miami.

It was supposed to be a game in which the Gators corrected mistakes against an overmatched opponent in preparation for Tennessee. Ohio won one game last season and was winless entering Saturday's game.

It was supposed to be a blowout.

For three quarters, it looked like it would be a blow-up.

Playing an opponent with no passing game and two injured quarterbacks, Florida stumbled to a 34-6 win over Ohio in front of 84,002 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The game was hindered by a 46-minute lightning delay and poor weather throughout.

"It wasn't the best performance we have ever put together," said quarterback Rex Grossman, who was 18-of-31 for 202 yards. "We will watch the tape and see how well we did. Sometimes when you watch tape, it's not as bad as it seems."

The team that insisted its poor performance last week had more to do with how good Miami was than how bad the Gators are struggled again. Grossman consistently was rushed or hurried out of the pocket, especially in the first half. And the Bobcats employed a 20-play drive in the second quarter.

Florida led 14-6 at halftime, but coach Ron Zook said he "absolutely" saw improvement from last week.

"There is no doubt in my mind we got better tonight," Zook said. "When you are putting in new systems like we are and doing new things under fire, sometimes that (slow start) happens, but we got better. I had a feeling on the sideline (after halftime) that these guys are beginning to feel what is going on, and they are beginning to think. That is what you want to get to."

Zook saw the game differently than many fans, whose boos could be heard several times.

"Yeah, I heard some of them," safety Todd Johnson said. "It was frustrating for the players with rain and the way they ran the offense. It's fine if they boo as long as we step up and play great next week."

A little more than three minutes into the game, Ohio led by three, the first it had scored in the first half this season.

With six minutes left in the second quarter, Ohio had a 65-yard, 20-play drive to pull within 7-6, using 9:47. The drive ended with a 20-yard field goal by Kevin Kerr.

And Ohio never completed a pass.

The Bobcats' drive was the second-longest Florida has allowed since 1999. Alabama went 70 yards on 18 plays in 1999.

"They had one drive where they were able to get pieces here and there and a couple of fourth downs they barely made, but other than that our defense played well," defensive tackle Ian Scott said. "We didn't make the same mistakes as last week."

But Florida's offense took almost three quarters to score 21. At halftime, Ohio, which has the nation's seventh-best defense, held the Gators to 172 yards (46 rushing), and the Gators had allowed 124. As the game wore on and Ohio wore down, Florida compiled 365.

"I think we put in a great effort," coach Brian Knorr said. "We felt that if we could confuse them early, we would have a good chance to get ahead early."

Ohio, whose two starting quarterbacks had ankle injuries, did not complete a pass in the first half. Dontrell Jackson was 2-of-4 for 12 yards in the game.

At the end of three quarters, Earnest Graham, the SEC's leading rusher, had 17 yards on 10 carries. Graham redeemed himself with a 40-yard touchdown run with 13:34 left in the game. He finished with 60 yards on 12 carries.

Grossman was intercepted on his first pass, but had his first passing touchdown since the first game of the season with 51 seconds left in the first half -- an 18-yarder to end Aaron Walker.

The underdog label aside, Ohio proved early on it would be aggressive. On its 20th play, the Bobcats converted two fourth downs.

It was not a great day for Grossman. In addition to the interception, he had three incomplete passes, two of which were not near his intended receiver, in the first two series. Zook said some of those were routes cut short. No. 1 receiver Taylor Jacobs caught two passes for 23 yards and dropped several.

Florida took a 21-6 lead on a 5-yard run by Ran Carthon with 3:07 left in the third quarter.

"The weather kind of set us back, but that is no excuse," said Carthon, who rushed for 50 yards on seven carries. "We still have some things to improve on."

Willie Green scored Florida's final touchdown on a 1-yard run.

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