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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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UF could've been a contender
By JOHN ROMANO, Times Columnist
Published October 7, 2007
BATON ROUGE, La. - For most of the night, they made you believe.
They made you believe in second chances. They made you believe in outlandish dreams.
For most of the night, the Florida Gators made you think back-to-back national championships really were a possibility in football the same way they were in basketball.
They made you believe right up until the moment a Tim Tebow pass bounced off a receiver's head and knocked some sense back into the world of college football.
Any talk of another national championship died Saturday night in the stadium they call Death Valley.
Oh, what a moment it could have been. In a 60-minute game, the Gators were in control for the first 58:51. They played smart. They played aggressive. They even played a little sassy.
And, still, it wasn't enough.
The Gators could not stop LSU when it mattered. Mostly, they could not stop LSU on fourth down. Five times, the Tigers gambled instead of punting or going for a field goal, and five times they converted.
That was not the surprise. Florida's defense is young, and it is susceptible. The real damage came on offense when the Gators turned the ball over twice in a span of a few minutes between the third and fourth quarters.
The second turned out to be the biggest moment of the night. The Tigers had just missed a field goal, and the Gators had momentum and a 10-point lead.
But two plays later, the night turned dark. Tebow was throwing across the middle to a receiver running from left to right when tight end Cornelius Ingram entered the play from the opposite direction. The ball bonked Ingram on the helmet and bounced into the air for an LSU interception. A few minutes later, LSU scored a touchdown, and the comeback was real.
And so, at this point, it is no longer a question of whether Florida is the best team in the nation.
It is not. And there is a serious question of whether the Gators will even be the best team in the Southeastern Conference or in the Eastern Division.
The shame today is not in the loss but in the missed opportunity. For Florida was not the better team, yet it played a nearly perfect game through most of three quarters.
It appeared as if the image of Urban Meyer as a big-game coach would grow a little larger.
This was the fourth time the Gators have played against a team ranked in the top 5 during the Meyer era. There was Tennessee. And then Georgia. And finally Ohio State. Each time, Meyer came out looking a little smarter.
And for nearly three hours Saturday, he looked like a genius.
Even with a much younger team, even in one of college football's most hostile stadiums, even against the No. 1 team in the nation, the Gators controlled the game's tempo. And they did it because Meyer's game plan kept LSU off balance.
Florida began the night without any running backs, throwing on three straight plays and picking up 19 yards. Before the Tigers could adjust, the Gators switched to a running attack and went 28 yards on the next five plays.
Suddenly, the team without a running back was grinding it out. The Tigers had been giving up an average of 39 yards per game on the ground, and the Gators had 46 yards by the end of the first quarter.
This was the No. 1 defense in the country. A defense that had given up 30 points in five games. And yet Florida had nearly matched that total through three quarters.
But as impressive as the game plan was coming in, the coaching staff made a crucial error in the final minutes. With LSU moving in position to score, the Gators failed to use a timeout early in the series. The result: Florida had 1:09 for a final drive instead of more than two minutes.
Meyer knows this team is young and flawed. He knows the Gators are probably a year or so from being truly dangerous. He said as much last week when he insisted this is not the same situation as last season.
When the Gators lost to Auburn last season, Meyer pulled out a tape of Danny Wuerffel talking about how the 1996 team rebounded from a loss to win the national championship. At the beginning of every week, Meyer would run down the national championship picture and Florida's place in the hierarchy.
He could do that last year because the Gators were that talented and had that much experience. Meyer said nothing of the kind after the loss to Auburn, and the inference is obvious.