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Special teams make progress for UF

After a down game vs. Miami, the improvement comes in all phases.

By JILL MARTIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002


GAINESVILLE -- After a missed extra point, a missed field goal, minimal gains on kickoff and punt returns and a botched punt against Miami on Sept. 7, inclement weather conditions could have been bad news for Florida's special teams.

Not quite.

In the midst of a bizarre game against Ohio marred by sloppy play on both sides of the ball, the Gators' special teams had a flawless day.

After a 46-minute delay in the first quarter because of lightning, players returned to a soggy field. But the Gators handled the conditions well.

"Any time you have rain and wind and things like that and it gets wet and sloppy out there that's going to change the course of a football game," said cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, who handled punt returns. "You've just got to fight through that and play through."

Junior Sean Morton, who replaced Jason Hunter at punter, averaged 40.3 yards on three attempts. His longest was 47 yards.

Morton, a transfer from Northwestern, also was the holder for placekicks.

"I thought Sean Morton did a nice job tonight, he really did," Florida coach Ron Zook said.

Sophomore kicker Matt Leach, whose position was up for grabs last week, converted his four extra-point attempts.

Leach had missed an extra point and a field goal attempt against Miami. He also missed a point-after and a field-goal attempt against Alabama-Birmingham on Aug. 31.

The lone miss on an extra point Saturday came from Brendt Talcott in the fourth quarter. By that time, Florida had a 34-6 lead.

Zook said he was impressed with kickoff returns and punt returns.

Instead of using Ratliff and Vernell Brown, Zook turned to tailback Ran Carthon and linebacker Larry Kendrick to field kickoffs. Ratliff and Brown handled punts.

After his lackluster performance against Miami, Ratliff had to make Ohio's coaching staff think twice about punting on fourth down. Late in the first half, Ratliff returned a 49-yard punt for 41 yards.

"Keiwan had some nice runs there, and Keiwan's going to be a pretty good punt returner for us," Zook said.

In the first quarter, Ratliff returned a punt for 24 yards. However, a flag was thrown on the Gators for running into the kicker.

For Ratliff, that was no big deal. He fielded the punt and ran for the same distance on the next play.

"Tonight we had more opportunities as far as punt returns and kick returns and things like that," Ratliff said. "Earlier in the season most of our punt returns have been pooch situations, or basically situations where I've been standing on the 10, so I really haven't had a chance to return many. This week I had more of an opportunity and more of a chance to go out and show some of our special teams."

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