Florida's QB makes a difference ... by playing worse than Ole Miss' Eli Manning.
By JILL MARTIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 6, 2002
OXFORD, Miss. -- So much for the Heisman hype.
In a quarterback matchup that was supposed to be for conference supremacy and potentially for the coveted trophy, neither player posted worthy numbers.
Mississippi's Eli Manning did not throw a touchdown pass in a game for the first time in his career and finished with 154 yards.
But Florida's Rex Grossman had his worst performance of the season, completing 19 of 44 passes with twice as many interceptions (four) as touchdown passes (two).
In Florida's two losses Grossman has had a bad day. Saturday's performance was reminiscent of the mistakes he made against No. 1 Miami on Sept. 7, including an interception run back 97 yards for a touchdown that put the Hurricanes on cruise control.
However, not all the blame Saturday went to Florida's quarterback. The offensive line also played a key role in Florida's demise.
Grossman was hurried, sacked and bruised by the game's conclusion.
"We were frustrated at first because they were unloading to our weak side," Florida guard Max Starks said. "They were sending more men than we could block. There was nothing we could do when it came down to it, him getting hit, because it was always one man that became unblocked."
The line also was responsible for key penalties, including one that spoiled a trick play in the fourth quarter on which tailback Earnest Graham completed a pass to Grossman for a 27-yard gain.
The play was called back after center Mike Degory was ruled an ineligible receiver.
Grossman said the penalties, which also included personal fouls and delays of game, were frustrating. But at the same time, he said they didn't make the difference in the final score.
"We're not going to blame it on penalties or one play," Grossman said. "We had our chances the whole game to do something."
Coach Ron Zook said Grossman's poor decisions played a part in the hits he took and put his team in a tough position to maintain the lead.
"Some of the shots he took were his fault," Zook said.
With 6:30 left in the first half, Grossman fumbled in the end zone. After recovering, he was met by Rebels lineman Josh Cooper and quickly threw the ball away.
Officials called intentional grounding, crediting Cooper with a safety and giving Ole Miss its first points.
It wasn't just the two points that hurt the Gators. Grossman went to the sideline with an injured left hand.
There was swelling after the game, but Grossman said it was not a reason for his poor performance.
In the third quarter, Grossman fell apart.
On the opening drive, he was intercepted by Matt Grier, who returned it to Florida's 18-yard line. Ole Miss scored three plays later.
Later in the third, Grier came through again with a 24-yard touchdown after picking off another Grossman pass.
With 6:09 left in the game Grossman was sacked for a 13-yard loss on fourth down, and Florida's last possession ended when Grossman's overthrown pass was intercepted.