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Gator quarterback wheel spins again

Fortunes switch for Grossman, Palmer. But an injury precludes more drama ... for now.

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000


photo
[Times photo: AP photo]
Florida quarterback Jesse Palmer re-injures his ankle on this sack by Georgia's Will Witherspoon.
JACKSONVILLE -- In what is almost a rite of passage for Gator quarterbacks, freshman Rex Grossman was benched for the first time in his young career Saturday. He had thrown three interceptions in the first half -- more than enough to put anyone on the sideline -- but did he think he could go through four years with Steve Spurrier and not get pulled?

"It was a goal," Grossman said after the Gators' 34-23 victory at Alltel Stadium. "It's not something I was really worried about or thinking about, but if you're not playing well, you need to rest a while and give the next guy a shot."

Grossman is still Florida's starting quarterback, though now it is not so much a position he earned, but one he that was returned to him. Senior Jesse Palmer, who replaced Grossman and accounted for two touchdowns in putting Florida ahead for good, returned to the sidelines when he reinjured a sprained ankle.

"It's very frustrating," said Palmer, who stood with crutches at the end of the game, his ankle in an immobilizer boot. "This was really the first game in a couple of weeks when I've been healthy enough to come in -- I've always been able to fight back from injuries, and I think I'll be ready to go before the end of the season."

Before the injury, Florida's quarterback situation had seemed to come full circle, from Palmer, who began the year as the starter, to Grossman's success as his replacement, back to Palmer, who had the Gators ahead 27-17 when he was injured on a sack. Grossman survived the game without injury, but his numbers were hardly healthy.

Florida had thrown three interceptions in seven games, but Grossman matched that before halftime, starting the game ominously with a interception on the first play.

"Rex was struggling tonight -- I don't know what happened to him," Spurrier said. "The first play was just unbelievable: He didn't look around, didn't do anything, he just came up there and threw it right to the safety. And then he overthrew Jabar (Gaffney) on the next (drive) -- I was starting to worry about him right there."

Spurrier said he told Grossman he was "giving him a little break," and put in Palmer, who has been involved in quarterback controversies since he came to UF. Though Palmer lost a fumble on his second play, setting up a touchdown that gave Georgia a 17-9 lead, he tied the score with a touchdown pass and two-point conversion before halftime and ran for another score in the third quarter.

Palmer said he prepared himself to go in the game after Grossman's second interception, and by the third, even Grossman wasn't surprised by the switch.

[Times photo: Kevin White]
Florida quarterback Rex Grossman (8) delivers a pass in the first quarter against Georgia. Grossman threw two interceptions in the first quarter and one in the second quarter before he was benched.

"I was playing pretty bad, and he knew Jesse would play decent, so he put him in there," he said.

But for the second time this season, an ankle injury put Palmer on the sideline and Grossman in the game. Spurrier said he "feels for any senior that gets hurt," but at the same time, he didn't mention Palmer in the quarterback picture for the immediate future. Freshman Brock Berlin will be Grossman's backup Saturday against Vanderbilt, and Spurrier said both could see action.

Grossman said the game will not affect his confidence, and his last pass of the game was a 27-yarder to Reche Caldwell to the 2-yard line, setting up a touchdown that put the game away.

"Without my mistakes and bad decisions, it probably wouldn't have been a very close game," said Grossman, who completed 12-of-24 passes for 152 yards, including a first-quarter touchdown.

Though Grossman is his quarterback, Spurrier said the freshman is far from being where he needs to be.

"He's got a way to go," Spurrier said. "I know y'all made him a Heisman candidate after two games, but he went back to being Indiana's superstar. He's got a lot to learn, and he knows that."

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