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College football

Gators shake off doubt, slow start

UF 63, FAMU 3: Florida cruises after some scary moments early.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 14, 2003

GAINESVILLE - Just for a minute - okay, more like about 49 seconds - it looked like all of Florida's big talk about not being affected by its second-half collapse and heartbreaking loss to Miami Sept.6 was just that.

All talk.

The Gators rushed on the field Saturday, took the opening kickoff against Florida A&M, then promptly threw an interception on the opening play, briefly raising a question about whether they really shook off the loss.

That question was quickly answered with a resounding no.

Playing the Rattlers for the first time, Florida's few mistakes were barely noticeable as the Gators (2-1) easily defeated FAMU 63-3 in front of 90,087 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

"Obviously the concern we had as a staff, being a young team and laying it on the line like we did last week, I wanted to come out here and make sure we got better," Florida coach Ron Zook said. "I'm proud of our players, I'm proud of our team and I'm proud of the way they got prepared. I think we played well."

With SEC foe Tennessee on the horizon on Saturday, Zook said what he wanted to see most was how well the Gators could run the football.

He got his answer.

Five Florida running backs scored eight touchdowns, seven rushing, which is one shy of a school record.

"The more you run the football, the more your offensive line fits," Zook said. "I wanted to make sure our running game was greased up. ... I wanted to make sure that before we go into the Southeastern Conference, we are able to run the football."

The Gators won with balance on offense (227 passing yards, 309 rushing), stellar special teams (blocked punt and field goal) and solid defense.

And with tailback DeShawn Wynn.

The redshirt freshman had 14 carries for 95 yards and three touchdowns rushing plus a score on an 8-yard pass to become the first freshman in school history to score four touchdowns in a game. The four touchdowns tied a school record.

Wynn said it was the kind of game he's made for.

"Tonight we wanted to establish the run a little bit and get on the ground," Wynn said. "The offensive line did a good job of opening up the holes, and the receivers did a good job of keeping their blocks down the field. Most of the time, I usually had to make a one-on-one move against the secondary. There were big holes all night."

But he wasn't alone.

The tailback group of Wynn, Ran Carthon, Ciatrick Fason, Jimtavis Walker and Skyler Thornton combined for 45 rushing attempts and 309 yards.

Wynn put Florida on the scoreboard on a 2-yard run with 9:12 left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.

The Rattlers responded with a 47-yard field goal by Juan Vasquez to pull within 7-3 with 6:09 left in the first quarter.

The Rattlers were never a threat after that.

The Gators are still relying on their quarterback rotation of Martin, freshman Chris Leak, and occasionally freshman Gavin Dickey.

It's still working.

The three combined to go 17-of-22 with just one interception.

And there was Florida's defense, which forced two fumbles and one interception - grabbed by Ratliff with an 11-yard return leading to a 4-yard touchdown run by Carthon with 5:20 left in the first half and a 28-3 lead.

FAMU gained 175 yards rushing but just 93 passing. Still, Zook said UF's defense got sloppy late.

Two freshmen capped the night for the Gators. Walker electrified the sparse remaining crowd with a 50-yard touchdown run with 5:13 left, then Thornton scored the final touchdown on a 21-yard run with 2:10 left.

Florida made mistakes, but none were costly. Its biggest miscue was an illegal formation call that turned a Matt Leach field goal attempt into a 51-yarder - which he missed early in the second quarter.

Tight end Ben Troupe was guilty on that play but he redeemed himself midway through that quarter when Leak hit him in the back of the end zone for a 7-yard score, giving UF a 21-3 lead.

Troupe had three catches for 41 yards in three quarters.

"We are tremendously pleased to have the opportunity and challenge to come into the Swamp and lock horns with the Gators," FAMU coach Billy Joe said. " ... He (Zook) could have at least put 100 points on us if he wanted to but he was a gentleman, showing character and integrity in not running the score up."


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