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Called on to carry club, UF defense falls flat

The Gators look tired as they attempt to stop Tigers QB Matt Mauck in the third quarter.

By JILL MARTIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13, 2002


The Gators look tired as they attempt to stop Tigers QB Matt Mauck in the third quarter.

GAINESVILLE -- Perhaps Florida is starting to notice the loss of the Fun n' Gun after all.

Without Steve Spurrier's offense and with the Gators' recent struggles with the ball, Florida has had to do something it has taken for granted in recent years: depend on its defense.

Case in point: A 41-34 win against Kentucky was no sure thing until cornerback Keiwan Ratliff delivered with two interceptions, one for a touchdown and the other for a defensive two-point conversion.

But the crucial plays weren't executed Saturday, and the Gators defense fell flat, giving up 402 yards en route to a 36-7 loss to LSU.

"We couldn't get them out of their game," Florida free safety Todd Johnson said. "They were really balanced. When a team's balanced, they're hard to stop."

After a first half in which the defense kept the game in reach at 13-7, the Gators looked as if they had run out of gas in the Tigers' first drive of the third quarter. LSU marched down the field and ended with a Matt Mauck sideline pass to Devery Henderson for a touchdown.

LSU's first play on its next drive ended up with a touchdown, and the third quarter ended with Florida in a 26-7 hole.

"I think the defense got a little sloppy," Florida coach Ron Zook said. "When I began to get concerned was when they were able to take that first drive down in the third quarter and score. I began to sense maybe we were losing a little bit of the intensity we need to have."

Quarterback Rex Grossman had four interceptions for the second consecutive week. With guard Shannon Snell sidelined with a sprained shoulder, Grossman wasn't protected by the Gators' retooled offensive line.

"It might have worn us down a little bit," Johnson said. "They had a good back, they were blocking hard and he was running hard."

The higher LSU's offensive numbers climbed, the more fatigued Florida's defense got. Aside from the 306 yards against Miami and 178 yards against Ohio, John Thompson's defense had not allowed many yards rushing.

Saturday was a different story. Even without running back LaBrandon Toefield, who is out for at least five more weeks after fracturing the radius in his left forearm Oct. 5, the Tigers were able to get by with the carries by quarterback Mauck and running backs Domanick Davis and Joseph Addai.

LSU had 249 rushing yards.

"We really didn't play that great," Ratliff said. "We were put in some bad situations where we had to come out and try to hold them to field goals and just try to keep their discourse to a minimum. I feel we didn't play bad, just not well enough to win."

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