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Gators please Zook, but QB race still on

FLORIDA: Coach sees some improvement as Orange wins 16-13 to close spring season.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2003

GAINESVILLE -- Here's the good news Florida fans: coach Ron Zook says that after 15 spring practices, the Gators are a much better team than they were last year at this time.

But there still is no starting quarterback and a lot of improvement is needed before the season starts in August.

"I came in one year ago and said I'd like to have 15 more practices," Zook said. "This year, I'd like to have eight more. I'm excited. I'm pleased with the way things went. We're not where we need to be yet, but we're not supposed to be."

The Gators culminated the spring season Saturday with the annual Orange and Blue game in front of 31,000 -- the second-largest spring crowd. The Orange squad, comprised of first-team players for most of the game, defeated the Blue 16-13.

Among three quarterbacks vying for the starting job, it was sophomore-to-be Ingle Martin who looked most impressive, going 15-of-28 for 194 yards and two touchdowns -- a 40-yard pass to Reggie Lewis and a 9-yard pass to Dallas Baker.

As expected, no starter was named. Zook said if "somebody put a gun to my head and forced me to choose right now" Martin likely would be the choice. That could change in the fall.

"It's not beyond the realm of thinking that we may end up playing a couple of them," Zook said. "It's been done around here before."

Redshirt freshman Gavin Dickey was 7-of-19 for 55 yards, and Patrick Dosh was 5-of-18 for 30 yards.

"I was a little nervous," Dickey said. "I never really got in a rhythm. But it was a great learning experience, I learned a lot. I just need to work on relaxing and don't try to make the big play every time."

Florida defensive back Keiwan Ratliffe, who spent the spring at wide receiver, provided the Orange team's winning margin, intercepting a Dosh pass at the 42-yard line and returning it for a touchdown.

The punting remains inconsistent, the defense had a solid spring and the offensive line has vastly improved, Zook said.

"Last year, there were questions about the right side, but there should be no questions about us this year," offensive tackle Shannon Snell said.

Former Florida running back and the NFL's all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, was honored before the game. He said the Gators need to balance their run-to-pass ratio.

"They've got some great speed out there, and they need to spend a little more time focusing on running the football," Smith said. "I don't think they ran the ball as effectively as they could have last year. They've got some guys back there that can tote it."

The stats bear his comments out: the Gators rushed 55 times and passed 66 on Saturday. The Blue team had 235 yards on 61 plays, and the Orange piled up 245 yards on 60. DeShawn Wynn led all rushers with 91 yards, and Jimtavis Walker led the Blue with 42 yards on 10 carries. Ciatrick Fason also had 33 yards on six carries and scored for the Blue.

Zook was pleased overall, but he made it clear that every player has a chance to compete for playing time this fall.

"I hate to say we're going to rely on young people, but we're going to have some young people play," he said.

Asked if he has any reservations about starting a freshman to open the season, Zook quickly said, "No."

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