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Graham gets start, thunders


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2000

GAINESVILLE -- Earnest Graham made his case for the job of starting tailback in Florida's win against Middle Tennessee State.

After losing the starting role to junior Robert Gillespie, Graham equaled his rushing total from last weekend -- 19 yards -- on his first two carries Saturday.

He finished the first half averaging 7.5 yards with one touchdown. Senior Bo Carroll stepped in as the backup tailback, averaging 6.8 yards in the first half.

Because of the lead Florida built up during the first half, Graham saw limited action during the second half of play. He finished with 85 yards.

Gillespie (sprained right toe) is expected to return for the Tennessee game.

"Robert Gillespie will be doubtful for the first part of this week and then we'll see how he feels this weekend," coach Steve Spurrier said.

TIES THAT BIND: The game was a homecoming for Middle Tennessee State offensive line coach Joe Wickline, who played at Florida from 1977-80. Wickline, a St. Petersburg native who played at Northeast High, saw many familiar faces when he looked across Florida Field. Offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens was a graduate assistant in 1977-78; wide receivers coach Dwayne Dixon was a freshman during Wickline's senior season; and Steve Spurrier was quarterbacks coach in 1978.

PULLING RANK: No. 8 Florida is the highest ranked Division I-A opponent played by Middle Tennessee State, in its second season as a Division I-A program. But the Gators are not the Blue Raiders' highest-ranked opponent ever. Florida State was No. 1 when it played MTSU in 1991.

ON THE RETURN: Lito Sheppard's punt return during the first quarter was the first time Florida has returned a touchdown since Nov. 15, 1997, when Jacquez Green went 86 yards against South Carolina.

Sheppard hyperextended his left elbow during the second quarter. After a halftime evaluation, Sheppard did not return and was re-evaluated after the game.

FIRST TOUCHDOWN: Taylor Jacobs' reception from Jesse Palmer was the first touchdown of his career. Last week, tight end Kirk Wells opened the scoring with his first touchdown reception.

NEVER A LOSS: Under Spurrier, Florida is 71-0 against unranked opponents.

A DIFFERENT LOOK: Florida wore white at home for the first time since the Louisiana State game in 1998.

MR. TWO-BITS: George Edmundson returned to Florida Field to award his annual scholarship to two cheerleaders. He led the crowd in the two-bits cheer before leaving.

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