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College football

Special teams a bit more so

Kick and punt coverage teams in particular shine after two subpar performances.

By BRIAN SHAFFER
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 14, 2003

GAINESVILLE - After consecutive weeks of shaky special teams play, Florida used a game that was well in hand to sharpen skills it will need when the SEC schedule begins Saturday against Tennessee.

The Gators made big plays in almost every area of the game's often forgotten third phase.

In the first quarter of Florida's 63-3 win over Florida A&M, Jermaine McCollum blocked a punt, Keiwan Ratliff blocked a field goal and Andre Caldwell downed Eric Wilbur's punt on the FAMU 1-yard line.

"It's pretty amazing when that happens," Wilbur said of his punt. "It really feels like you're helping the team and the defense. You're that close to getting a safety, and that's the closest a punter can get to scoring."

The Gators showed better discipline in punt coverage. FAMU's fake-punt attempt failed when McCollum shoved punter Damon Miller out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage.

McCollum, who blocked a punt in Florida's first game against San Jose State, broke up another attempt by FAMU. It resulted in a fumble, and the Gators' Reggie Lewis recovered.

"I've been blocking punts, kicks and everything since high school," McCollum said. "That was a major part of my recruiting; I wanted to be a big part of special teams."

The kickoff coverage team, which gave up a touchdown to Miami's Devin Hester last week, was helped by six touchbacks from kickoff specialist Matt Piotrowicz.

Freshman cornerback Dee Webb, who played in his first game after battling an ankle injury, was added to the kickoff team because of his speed.

"Running down on the kickoff team is not just running down there," Florida coach Ron Zook said. "There are things you have to do. You want to avoid blocks, you have to get off of blocks, and I think we're improving there. Plus, (Piotrowicz) did a great job of kicking."

Not everything the Gators did on special teams was positive. Freshman Chad Jackson fumbled a kickoff in the first quarter. The Rattlers' drive resulted in a missed field goal.


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