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No turnaround for UF special teams

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 10, 2002

NASHVILLE -- Florida coach Ron Zook has promised improvement on special teams for weeks, but he and the Gators still are waiting.

It was another dismal performance Saturday, especially in the kicking game.

Matt Leach missed two 48-yard field-goal attempts and the special teams unit allowed Vanderbilt's Brandon Smith to return a punt 65 yards, setting up a Commodores touchdown. It was the longest punt return of the season for Vanderbilt. By the fourth quarter kicker Jeff Whitaker was warming up, and Zook said he was considering using him if the Gators needed another field-goal try.

Punter/backup quarterback Ingle Martin, a Nashville native, also struggled, but he had an excuse -- at least in the first half. He punted into winds between 20 and 30 mph. Martin had punts of 41, 25, 17 and 36 yards in the first half, eventually finishing with six for an average 31 yards.

Florida also had two punt returns for 6 yards.

"We've got to get our punting game straight," Zook said. "And the field goals, (Leach is) a talented guy, but he didn't get some today. ... We've got to get those points."

WHO CARES?: No TV networks wanted to carry the game.

And apparently few people in Nashville were interested.

The game drew an announced 28,881, but with a large chunk of Vanderbilt Stadium empty, it appeared fewer were in attendance. Of those at the game, almost 8,000 were Florida fans. It was the smallest crowd the Gators have played before since Sept. 23, 1989, against Memphis State (now Memphis).

"It had the feel of a high school game," quarterback Rex Grossman said.

DOSTER'S DAY: With a 9-yard carry on Vanderbilt's first possession of the second half, former Robinson standout Kwane Doster became the all-time leading freshman running back for the Commodores. Doster surpassed Carl Woods' 1983 mark of 644. Doster finished with 72 yards on 17 carries, giving him 687 this season. Doster, who grew up a Florida State fan, said he was thrilled about playing the Gators.

TAMPA BOUND?: Outback Bowl chairman Carter B. McCain attended to check out the Gators. McCain said Florida is one of many teams that could play in the New Year's Day bowl. The Outback Bowl gets the third-place teams from the Big Ten and SEC.

"There are a number of teams that we're looking at, but there is still a lot of football to be played," McCain said. "We're definitely looking at Florida among other teams. Florida has never been to our bowl and they are a high-profile team."

THE STUDENT ADVANTAGE: Gator fans who wanted to watch Saturday's game had to pay $24.95 in advance or $29.95 on the day of the game to watch it on Pay Per View. Unless you were a student living in the residence halls.

The game was available to students at no charge in all UF residence halls thanks to funding from the University Athletic Association. The money generated will benefit UF libraries.

SPECIAL GUESTS: Former Florida All-American Jevon Kearse was on the Gator sideline, along with former Gator tight end Erron Kinney. Both play for the Tennessee Titans.

WRONG LEAGUE: Grossman was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after running in for a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter, then spiking the ball, forcing Leach to kick a 35-yard extra point. Zook said Grossman must have watched too many NFL games.

"That's a Rex original," Grossman said when asked if he patterned it after anyone. "I was just excited. I probably shouldn't have done it."

HEADKNOCKER: Florida safety Todd Johnson knocked receiver Brandon Smith out of the game with a mild concussion.

"I stuck my hand out to help him up, but he just didn't get up," Johnson said.

TRIPLE THREAT: For the second consecutive week, cornerback Keiwan Ratliff started on both sides. Ratliff had two catches for 18 yards, two punt returns for six yards and six tackles, including four solo.

"I love it," he said. "Growing up, that's all I ever did, all I've ever known. I love coming out playing offense, defense and special teams."

ODDS AND ENDS: Tight end Ben Troupe sprained his right ankle and was placed in a boot and on crutches as he walked off the field. Zook said Troupe sprained his ankle and will be reevaluated today. ... Offensive tackle Mo Mitchell missed the game because of a death in the family. ... Grossman had about 150 friends and family members at the game. ... With his third catch of the day, Carlos Perez became the 17th receiver in Florida history to catch 50 or more passes in a season.

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