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Balance issues continue to impede Gators

In the loss to Ole Miss, UF again has problems getting all sides of the ball in synch.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 7, 2002


OXFORD, Miss -- One day after their biggest upset loss of the season, coach Ron Zook reiterated what he has said the past five weeks: there's nothing wrong with the Gators that can't be fixed.

He might be among the minority in that opinion.

After Saturday's 17-14 loss to then-unranked Mississippi, Florida dropped 10 spots in the Associated Press poll to No. 16 and Ole Miss entered at No. 25 -- the Gators' lowest ranking since the 1992 season when they were No. 23.

While the Ole Miss loss was stunning, it also revealed a troubling pattern with Florida: an inability to get all its problems corrected in one game.

Early in the season, the offense and defense struggled under schemes implemented by Zook's first-year staff. The offense eventually progressed while the defense struggled. Two weeks ago, the defense improved, and special teams fell apart.

Saturday, the defense had arguably its best outing of the season, holding the Rebels to 80 yards rushing and quarterback Eli Manning to a career-low 154. The offense failed in the second half.

Quarterback Rex Grossman had his worst game of the season, going 19-of-44 for 205 yards and four interceptions. The Gators rushed for 81 yards in the first half, 14 in the second, did not have a first down in the second half and were penalized numerous times on crucial plays.

Grossman was knocked down and harassed behind an offensive line that has been inconsistent all season.

"When it came down to it, there was always one man that went unblocked," left tackle Max Starks said. "We knew it was coming from the field side, but we just couldn't put enough guys on one side to block all the guys they were sending."

Zook refused to solely blame the line, saying Grossman is responsible for picking up blitzes and either changing the protection or getting rid of the ball quickly, which he did not do well Saturday. Zook said the loss was more a case of the Gators having an off day than a reflection of their progress.

"It's a little bit different than the problem we had early in the year with the defense," Zook said. "Our offense has been pretty good all year long. Like I told them last night, we put 509 yards on a team last week. We're capable of being a good football team. For one reason or another we didn't play the way we're capable of playing."

Zook said Florida should have run the ball more, and the offense became too predictable in the second half.

Whatever its problems, Florida needs to regroup quickly. The Gators are entering the heart of their SEC season with No. 18 LSU and No. 24 Auburn up next. No. 6 Georgia follows a bye week.

Despite Florida's troubles this season, LSU players said Sunday the Gators still carry a certain aura.

LSU defensive end Marcus Spears said: "You have to step up to another level when you play a team like them. You really can't go in there and say this is not the same team they have been."

Zook has challenged the Gators to rise to the occasion, saying a team is defined by how it responds to adversity.

"We're still in control of our own destiny, and this is a good football team," Zook said.

* * *

SNELL SHOULD PLAY: Left guard Shannon Snell, who injured his right shoulder Saturday, should be ready for LSU. Zook, who spent part of Sunday in Ohio at his father's memorial service before returning for an evening practice, said he had not talked to the trainer, but Snell assured him his shoulder isn't seriously injured.

Zook also said the injury to Grossman's left hand is not serious.

MORE PUNTING FOR MARTIN: Zook said backup quarterback Ingle Martin will continue to punt.

"We're going to continue to work him in there; he kind of likes it and he felt good about it," Zook said. "But on the same note, we've still got other guys that can punt the football."

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