GAINESVILLE - After weeks of struggling to effectively stop passing attacks, the Florida secondary finally may be finding its grove. Unfortunately, however, the newfound confidence follows four conference losses and the dismissal of coach Ron Zook.
Against Vanderbilt on Saturday, the Gators allowed one completion in the first half and 12 for the game, totaling 118 yards and no touchdowns.
"As a whole, I think we all played great," freshman safety Kyle Jackson said. "We had to get acclimated to their option, but once we finally got used to that (we stopped) the passing game. We've got great DBs. We've got young guys but everyone is good back there."
Jackson, who made his second start against the Commodores, is part of the defensive youth movement and is adjusting to increased playing time. But he and teammates are frustrated that the season is ending just when they are getting comfortable with their roles.
"A lot of us wish that we had more games, because everyone is finally coming together as a corps," Jackson said. "It's a shame."
INJURY UPDATE: While it was without four of its top five members last week, the linebackers continue to receive good news from the medical staff.
Travis Harris (ankle), Channing Crowder (foot), Todd McCullough (ankle) and Earl Everett (head) all missed last week's game, but Zook is hopeful some will return Saturday vs. South Carolina.
"Travis practiced a little bit (Wednesday), Zook said. "Channing was out there hobbling around a little bit. Todd right now is probably the furthest behind. Travis went through some stuff, 9-on-7 and some drills and stuff. He'll play."
Everett is practicing and expected to play. Another Gator battling a nagging injury is safety Terrance Holmes, who has been Florida's most active reserve in the secondary, seeing extensive time in a multiple-defensive back scheme. Holmes did not play against Vanderbilt.
"He's had a hamstring (injury) for about five weeks," Zook said. "He's all right, it's not really a hamstring. He's got a high strain up in his flexor muscle."
- BRIAN SHAFFER, Times correspondentUSF stays on toes
TAMPA - One week after surprising Alabama-Birmingham as a heavy underdog on the road, USF is taking every precaution to avoid a letdown as a two-touchdown favorite at home Saturday against East Carolina.
"A coach always wants them to be better. It'll never change," coach Jim Leavitt said. "Am I ever satisfied with a practice? Not very often. I always wish one guy would do a little better, or another guy. This will be a very difficult game."
ECU went 1-11 last year but took the Bulls to double overtime before losing 38-37, so the Pirates' 2-5 record won't be fooling USF.
"They beat the dog out of Army, and we got beat by Army, and they beat Tulane, who beat UAB, so East Carolina can be very good," Leavitt said.
- GREG AUMAN, Times staff writerFSU on Peach watch
ATLANTA - Peach Bowl representatives Gary Stokan and Bob Schuler will visit Carter-Finley Stadium tonight to scout the Florida State-N.C. State game in Raleigh, N.C. The teams will be scouted as potential teams in the Dec. 31 bowl game.