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Palmer points the way

Florida's senior quarterback runs for a school record-tying four TDs and passes for another in rout.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000


College Football 2000 Preview
[Times photo: Kevin White]
Gators QB Jesse Palmer lead the Gators head-first with four rushing touchdowns against Kentucky.
GAINESVILLE -- This sort of thing used to happen all the time.

The defense would give up a bunch of yards and way too many points, but the offense always scored more. Nothing made Florida happier than an old-fashioned shootout.

Ahhh, the good ol' days.

For one day, they were back.

No. 3 Florida trounced Kentucky 59-31 before 85,319 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, hearkening to the days when the Gators routinely scored 50 against Southeastern Conference opponents.

"The scoreboard reflects how we feel we can play every week," said quarterback Jesse Palmer, who ran for a school record-tying four touchdowns and threw for one. "Our offense is capable of having a shootout every week. It's just a matter of execution."

Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC) remains tied atop the SEC East with surprising South Carolina, a 23-19 winner over No. 25 Mississippi State, the Gators' next opponent.

Back in 1995 and '96, the Gators ruled the SEC with a loaded Fun "n' Gun. Seven times in those seasons they scored at least 50 against an SEC team. But Saturday marked the first time in two years, since a 51-35 victory against -- guess who? -- Kentucky.

Two whole years.

Still, everything felt familiar.

The quick-strike offense logged 452 yards with a pair of two-play scoring drives, topped only by a pair of one-play scoring drives. Eleven receivers caught balls. The second string played the entire fourth quarter and punter Alan Rhine made just one appearance.

The revolving-door defense forced four turnovers, but gave up more than 500 yards to land coordinator Jon Hoke in the doghouse. Coming off a week in which Spurrier issued a media gag order for several top players with whom he was unhappy, Hoke was unaccountably unavailable for comment.

Kentucky freshman quarterback Jared Lorenzen, whose left arm was every bit as ample as his 6-foot-4, 275-pound frame, finished 35 of 59 for 363 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked once.

"We came into the game knowing they would throw a lot," defensive end Marcus Oquendo-Johnson said. "We tried to develop a scheme to stop the pass and, evidently, it didn't work."

Finally, in the ultimate throwback to UF's glory days, Spurrier can be accused of running up the score. Leading 52-31, Spurrier sent a pass play -- X-Streak -- in to backup quarterback Rex Grossman, who hit freshman receiver Jabar Gaffney with a 43-yard touchdown with five seconds left.

"If anybody wants to get mad about it, that's fine," Spurrier said. "They can get mad all they want to. They're running up their stats up and down the field. Heck, we can worry about ours, too."

Florida's stats did reflect a new-millennium wrinkle. Palmer's four rushing touchdowns matched a UF individual record shared by three others, most recently Fred Taylor against Florida State in 1997. The Gators' six rushing touchdowns tied for the most in Spurrier's 11 seasons.

Spurrier used a little gadgetry in the running game. From the shotgun, Palmer faked the handoff to a tailback moving laterally, then kept it and ran the opposite direction. Palmer ran the play twice, for a 14-yard touchdown and a 15-yard gain to the Kentucky 1.

"It's a boost for our confidence and makes football fun when we can go out and do stuff like that," said Palmer, who was 12 of 19 for 190 yards passing and rushed seven times for 38 yards. "When that play comes in we say, "Hey, let's go show them what we can do.' "

Trailing 24-17 late in the second quarter, Kentucky (2-2, 0-1) seemed determined to match UF touchdown for touchdown. But in 49 seconds, everything changed.

Kentucky took possession at the 1:52 mark of the second quarter, and on the first play Lorenzen was intercepted by Florida corner Lito Sheppard -- his third of the season -- to set up Palmer's third touchdown run for a 31-17 lead with 1:28 left.

"It was the turning point of the game," Kentucky coach Hal Mumme said of Sheppard's interception. "With a team as good as Florida, you have to be able to hang in there with them for the whole game."

On Kentucky's next play, defensive end Alex Brown stripped running back Artose Pinner and Guss Scott recovered the fumble at the Wildcats 32. Palmer needed just one play to find tight end Kirk Wells on a post route for a touchdown and 38-17 lead with 1:03 left.

Game over, with a half still to play.

Sort of like the old days.

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