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Gators benefit from earlier experiences

By ANTONYA ENGLISH and JILL MARTIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 22, 2002


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida fans can thank Miami and Mother Nature for the Gators' upset win against No. 4 Tennessee on Saturday.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida fans can thank Miami and Mother Nature for the Gators' upset win against No. 4 Tennessee on Saturday.

According to the coaches and players, Florida's loss to Miami and its game in the rain last week were big factors in Saturday's game.

For the second week in a row, Florida played in conditions that would be conducive for real Gators -- thunderstorms and a soggy, slippery field.

"I don't want to say we're used to playing in the rain, but I think last week really helped us," receiver Taylor Jacobs said. "It wasn't as wet in this game as it was last week. Since we had played in it (conditions) before, we were able to really concentrate on keeping our eye on the ball and catching it."

Florida coach Ron Zook said despite the 41-16 loss to defending national champion Miami, the Gators are better off because of it.

"Miami is a very good football team and our players knew it (the loss) wasn't as bad as it seemed," Zook said. "Playing a game like that was huge for us."

UT'S WEATHER WOES: While the weather may have been fine for Florida, not so for Tennessee. The Vols had eight fumbles, three they lost. Tennessee had four consecutive fumbles in the second quarter; quarterback Casey Clausen was responsible for three.

A RARE OCCURRENCE: Tennessee placekicker Alex Walls is generally a sure three points when he steps up to kick a field goal and nearly perfect on extra points, but Saturday he had something that rarely happens: a blocked field goal and a missed extra point.

Florida's Ian Scott blocked Walls' 27-yard attempt with 2:50 remaining in the first quarter. Walls is 13-of-15 dating to last season.

The last time the Gators blocked a field goal was 50 games ago -- when Eli Williams blocked one against South Carolina in 1997.

This is the second time this season that the special teams have had a block. Safety Todd Johnson blocked a punt against Miami.

Walls also missed an extra point late in the third quarter, his first miss in 92 attempts.

CELEBRITY WATCH: Several former Tennessee stars returned to Knoxville to lend their support. Former NFL star Reggie White, quarterback Heath Shuler and Knicks guard Allan Houston were at the game. Shuler read the Tennessee maxims while pictured on the JumboTron.

Among them: "The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win."

TO PLAY DAY OR PLAY NIGHT: CBS and ESPN waited for the outcome to help determine when Florida will play Kentucky on Saturday.

CBS is exercising its six-day advance option and announced it will broadcast the UK-Florida game at 3:30 p.m., instead of Alabama at Arkansas. ESPN will televise the Crimson Tide-Razorbacks game at 7:45 p.m.

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