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Tigers keep Gators reeling

LSU 36, UF 7: Two Rex Grossman interceptions within 2:17 help make an SEC title unlikely.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 13, 2002

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
LSU quarterback Matt Mauck eludes Florida's defense during a first-half run.
GAINESVILLE -- When the game began Saturday, Florida still controlled its destiny in achieving its last remaining goal: winning the SEC.

By the time the game ended, everything had changed.

When LSU walked out of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with a 36-7 victory, the Gators had been humiliated in front of 85,252 and left to ponder two major questions: What went wrong, and where do they go from here?

"We'll try everything we can to fix this, and we apologize to the Gator fans and hope they stick with us," quarterback Rex Grossman said. "We'll work our way out of this thing."

Saturday's victory was the first for LSU (5-1, 2-0 SEC) over the Gators (4-3, 2-2) in the past eight meetings and Florida's worst loss at home to an SEC team since 48-0 to Alabama in 1979.

"I'm in shock right now. I really am," receiver Taylor Jacobs said. "We've never been in this situation before. We just have to go back and regroup."

In Week 2, Miami took away the chance at an undefeated season. Last week, Mississippi ended any slim hopes of a national championship. Now the SEC title most likely is out the window, too. Florida is two games back in the East and needs Georgia to lose at least twice for a chance to play in the title game. Florida coach Ron Zook said he won't allow the team to quit.

"We aren't out of this thing," Zook said. "I know you all can write that we are, but we're not. That team that just beat us was in a similar situation a year ago and went on to win the SEC. There's no reason we can't do that. Do we have some work to do? Absolutely."

It took less than three minutes in the first quarter for LSU to take command. Grossman threw two interceptions that led to 10 points within 2:17. Cornerback Corey Webster's interception led to a 37-yard field goal by John Corbello with 4:55 left in the first quarter. Webster had three interceptions in the game.

Webster returned his second interception 45 yards for a touchdown, giving the Tigers a 10-0 lead with 3:38 left in the first quarter.

Corbello's 45-yard field goal with time expired gave the Tigers a 13-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, and Florida did not recover.

Grossman finished 18-of-43 for 163 yards. With four interceptions, he has seven in the past two games.

"It's a combination of things," Grossman said of the team's offensive woes. "We just need to fight our way back and out of this slump. I think everyone knows we can play well. We've played well. I don't know why we're in a slump now."

When LSU's Blain Bech scored on a 35-yard run off a fake field goal to give the Tigers a 33-7 lead with 4:52 left, a majority of the fans left the stadium. Those who remained chanted "Ingle Martin," Florida's punter and backup quarterback. After last week's loss to Mississippi, Zook promised to get Florida's offensive woes corrected. Grossman said he would try to play the best second half of the season in college history. The players insisted fans and analysts overreacted to the loss and everything was fine. But again Saturday, the Gators couldn't put it together.

With 10:34 left in the first quarter, Florida faked a field goal. But Jeff Whitaker's pass sailed over Ran Carthon's head. There were plays called back for penalties and the third and 1 in which Grossman lofted a bomb that fell incomplete.

When Florida found itself backed up on the 1 on the second drive of the third quarter, the Gators ran a sweep that nearly resulted in a safety.

For the second straight game, the offense struggled. The offensive line offered better protection, but the running game stalled. Grossman threw passes over his receivers, or the receivers ran routes nowhere near Grossman's passes.

Florida's defense, which had been solid the past three games despite last week's loss, spent most of the first quarter on the field. Florida had the ball for just 4:45 of the first 15 minutes.

LSU gained 249 rushing yards without leading rusher LaBrandon Toefield. Quarterback Matt Mauck was 13-of-20 for 153 yards and rushed for 67 yards.

The No.1 rushing defense in the nation held the Gators to 74 yards, 59 in the first half. LSU, which also leads the nation in total defense, held Florida to 237 total yards.

Florida scored its touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Grossman to Jacobs with 8:35 left in the first half.

"This is the first time any of us here have been in this situation," Carthon said. "This is where we really see where the leaders of this team are now."

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