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UF starts slow, then romps late

Louisiana-Monroe scores first on a turnover before the No. 2 Gators roll to a 55-6 victory in front of 85,011.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001


College Football 2000 Preview
[Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
Running back Robert Gillespie soars over the pile into the end zone to give the Gators a 35-7 lead in the second quarter.
GAINESVILLE -- For nearly 15 minutes, Louisiana-Monroe had the Gators right where it wanted them: trailing on the scoreboard.

With Florida stumbling through nearly the entire first quarter, the 56-point underdog Indians took a quick 6-0 lead that shocked the Gators and a crowd of 85,011 at Florida Field.

But with the quick, stunning fashion in which the game started, it ended much the same for Louisiana-Monroe (0-2).

By halftime, Florida had regrouped, led by 32 points, and then won 55-6.

Florida is 65-4 at Florida Field under coach Steve Spurrier, including 28-2 against nonconference opponents.

"I think our guys played hard tonight," Spurrier said. "Obviously we had those guys outmanned."

Still, the win didn't come as he had hoped.

On the opening play, Florida quarterback Rex Grossman fumbled and defensive end John Thompson recovered.

"We were pretty excited, we came out there with a lot of intensity," Thompson said. "It's good to come out and have a good start to any ball game, but especially here."

Three plays later, Ivory Brown rushed up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown with 13:30 left in the first quarter. The extra-point attempt failed, but the underdog Indians had the lead.

"That was not on the quarterback, that was on me," said center Zac Zedalis, who made his first start in two seasons. "I think I'm just trying a little too hard."

For Florida, the opening quarter was a series of mishaps, including three fumbles (two lost). The Gators' onside kick late in the first quarter was recovered by kicker Matt Piotrowicz, but Florida was offsides. They were hit with eight penalties for 65 yards in the game.

Also, Lito Sheppard and Todd Johnson dropped sure interceptions.

"We've got to try to get smarter," Spurrier said. "We had some errors. Hopefully we can learn from them and get better. We probably didn't want to be too perfect."

On the Gators' third series, free safety Dedrick Buckels recovered a Florida fumble at the Indians 30 but ULM could not capitalize.

That opened the door for Florida to pull itself together.

With 2:53 left in the first quarter, Earnest Graham's 12-yard run, and Jeff Chandler's subsequent kick gave Florida a 7-6 lead.

Florida's scoring barrage began in the second quarter, including three touchdowns from Grossman, a 1-yard run by Robert Gillespie and a 29-yard field goal by Chandler.

Gillespie and Graham combined for 150 rushing yards. Graham's 18 rushing touchdowns ties him for eighth on the school's all-time list. Gillespie, who scored his 16th, is 10th.

Grossman finished 23-of-34 for 331 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. It was his third career 300-yard game and the first time he has had consecutive 300-yard games. The Gators gained 600 yards of offense.

"It took a while for us to get in our rhythm, but when we did we got a lot of points on the board," Grossman said. "You know you're going to win the game, you just have to calm down and start doing things right."

Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney caught touchdowns of 10 and 24 yards, and finished with 102 yards, his eighth career 100-yard game. Receiver Reche Caldwell caught Grossman's other touchdown.

The Florida running game, which Spurrier said he wanted to see improve over last week, obliged. The Gators rushed for 168 yards on 31 carries.

"We definitely went out and put some bodies on some people, so I think we got a lot better," said Graham, who had 82 yards on 13 carries.

Meanwhile, the defense had an impressive outing. The Gators held ULM to 27 rushing and 78 passing yards, but defensive coordinator Jon Hoke said he was disappointed the Gators didn't have a sack or interception.

After missing most of the preseason recovering from knee surgery, Dade City fullback Rob Roberts had two big plays. He recovered a Gator fumble, then caught a 3-yard touchdown from Brock Berlin -- the first of his career -- with 11 seconds left in the third quarter to give Florida a 52-6 lead.

"Getting the opportunity to score was a blessing, no doubt," he said.

"It's good to get these games out of the way," Gaffney said. "I'm ready to get into the tougher part of the schedule."

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