By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 21, 2002
GAINESVILLE -- Shortly after Florida's 30-23 overtime win against Auburn, some Gator players said growing criticism of the coaching staff and consecutive conference losses had weighed heavily on their minds, making the victory more satisfying.
"We needed this more than any game of the year," quarterback Rex Grossman said.
"It has been a hard week," cornerback Keiwan Ratliff said. "It has been a long time since we got a win, and people like Rex and coach (Ron) Zook were hearing all the blame and the (calls for) firing and stuff like that. So it was a big win emotionally and to get some of the people off their back."
Zook said he was especially excited for the people around him.
"I'm feeling joy," he said. "Wins are hard to come by, but I'm happy for our players and I'm happy for our staff. ... We've hung with it and stayed positive. As I told the players before, I wanted it for them and I'm proud of them."
GOING FOR IT: If UF had lost, Zook may have been criticized for going for a first down with fourth and 1 on the UF 42, the score tied at 23 and 3:13 left. Running back Ran Carthon was stopped short.
"I thought about that for a while," Zook said. "I knew it was close. I felt like we could get it. I knew the defense was back on its haunches a little bit. I really believed we would get it. In hindsight with what happened we might have been better off to punt it. I felt at that time we would get that first down and move it down the field."
ACCOLADES FOR REX: Grossman's performance despite a sprained knee and repeated hits from defenders earned praise from teammates, coaches and national analysts.
ESPN's Trev Alberts blasted the play of the offensive line on the network's late telecast, saying, "Rex, I have a lot of respect for you, young man."
Said receiver Taylor Jacobs: "He's a soldier. Without him, we wouldn't be where we are by far. he's got great talent behind him but he's a great leader and he's got great athletic ability."
Grossman was sacked twice, but had no interceptions after throwing eight in the previous two games. He said his offensive line was a big part of the victory.
Grossman received a pain shot before the game and said once he warmed up, "the only thing that really bothered me was the brace and all the tape and the stocking and all the things that went in to protect it."
MIXED EMOTIONS: With senior safety Todd Johnson out because of a bruised thigh, backup Lester Norwood's enthusiasm for starting was curbed because his fortune came at the expense of Johnson. "It feels good, but the way it happened and the circumstances just don't feel right because he's my friend," said Norwood, who had four assisted tackles and a fumble recovery.
FOR THE RECORD: Earnest Graham's 72 yards rushing moved him to fifth on UF's all-time list with 2,617. He needs 459 to pass Fred Taylor for No. 4. ... Grossman's 242 yards passing moved him to third on the Gators' all-time list with 7,801. He moved to No. 6 in the SEC in career TD passes (68) and needs seven for third.