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Gators lose badly but remain atop Eastern Division


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 2, 2000

For all the yardage Florida gave up in an embarrassing 47-35 loss at Mississippi State on Saturday, the Gators really didn't lose much ground.

How does first place sound?

Among six teams in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division, only Georgia won Saturday. Florida (4-1, 2-1) and South Carolina (4-1, 2-1) remain tied at the top, with Georgia (3-1, 1-1) a half-game behind. Western Division leader Auburn (5-0, 3-0) is the league's only unbeaten team.

UF fell nine places to No. 12 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

"We've got to regroup and start scraping and clawing," coach Steve Spurrier said. "We're not in complete despair around here. But we've got some problems we've got to try to correct."

Topping the fix-it list is a broken-down defense that allowed 351 rushing yards, 517 total, to the league's worst-ranked offense. Mississippi State had two 150-yard rushers: Dicenzo Miller (172) and Dontae Walker (156).

"We've got the same run defense we had last year, but it's not working this year," Spurrier said. "Our scheme is such that we try to free one guy up to make the tackle. We've got to get two or three guys trying to tackle the ball carrier.

"This scheme worked pretty well last year. We were good against the run, had a lot of sacks. But now, all of a sudden, this same scheme's not holding up very well."

Florida's inexperience at middle linebacker is largely to blame. The Gators lost junior Andra Davis, a second-year starter who was second on the team with 109 tackles last season, to a season-ending knee injury in the opener.

Travis Carroll, a junior transfer from Alabama, was suspended the first three games and injured in his first appearance, spraining a knee Sept. 23. He could miss two more weeks.

That leaves redshirt freshman Matt Farrior and freshman Travis Harris to hold down the middle, where UF's defense has been most vulnerable.

"We certainly aren't getting the play from the middle linebacker that we need to," Spurrier said. "He got blocked a bunch (against MSU), didn't scrape across and get where he needed to be."

The next thing that needs mending is senior quarterback Jesse Palmer's right ankle, which he sprained while being sacked for a safety in the first quarter. Palmer attempted to return Saturday, but could not push off to throw. He will be evaluated during the week.

If Palmer cannot play, freshman Rex Grossman will start, Spurrier said, though he might use Grossman and freshman Brock Berlin in a rotating system.

"They both performed very well," Spurrier said. "We really sort of planned on rotating them if it came to that."

Grossman was 13-for-16 for 231 yards and two touchdowns, but fumbled on the Gators' first play of the second half. Berlin was 13-for-19 for 148 yards and two touchdowns, but saw most of his action in the fourth quarter after fumbling the ball away early in the third.

CROMARTIE RETURNS: Junior cornerback Robert Cromartie, sidelined with an ankle injury, may return to the starting lineup this week beside Lito Sheppard, Spurrier said. Cromartie, a starter last season, did not make the trip to Mississippi State.

TIME CHANGE: Saturday's home game against LSU will start at 12:30 p.m. and be televised by Jefferson Pilot affiliates (Ch. 38).

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