By ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 3, 2001
GAINESVILLE -- Don't tell Florida coach Steve Spurrier how today's game against Vanderbilt should be the Gators' easiest of the season.
Don't talk to the Florida players about the fact that Vanderbilt is a 351/2-point underdog or that Florida has won 10 in a row in this series.
You can mention that the Commodores have two victories this season, none in SEC competition, but Florida isn't interested in hearing that.
Recent history won't allow it.
The last time Vanderbilt was in Gainesville, in 1999, the Gators squeaked out a 13-6 win in a game that set Spurrier-era lows for passing yards (143) and total yards (269). It also ended a nine-year streak in which Florida had at least one touchdown pass in a home game.
To No. 4-ranked Florida (6-1, 4-1), unranked Vanderbilt is a dangerous opponent.
"Vanderbilt is one of those teams that plays people very, very close and struggles to win," Spurrier said. "Their record isn't very good ... but they are very capable. They have very good players and they move the ball better than other people we play against. Their defense has struggled a little bit lately, but early in the year they played very tough. So we are just trying to play better than we did last game."
The Gators host Vanderbilt at 12:30 today at Florida Field. It's homecoming, which is fitting, because Florida hasn't played at home since Sept. 29.
Florida is coming off a win against Georgia in which mistakes nearly overshadowed the victory. The Gators have acknowledged that correcting those problems will be a priority today, and overlooking Vanderbilt might prove to be a big mistake.
"They are one of those teams that is just a couple of players away from winning some games," center David Jorgensen said. "They are a tough team. They are a great program and they are one of those teams that can sneak up on you and take away a victory."
Vanderbilt is averaging 385.4 yards of offense, including 161 yards rushing. Senior quarterback Greg Zolman has thrown for 1,561 yards this season and is the league's leading career passer with 7,030 yards.
"Vanderbilt, offensively, presents a lot of problems," defensive coordinator Jon Hoke said. "They are difficult to defend. Their quarterback is an experienced guy ... he has quality receivers. If we don't come ready to play, then we are going to struggle."
Vanderbilt will be without starting running back Lew Thomas, who broke his ankle last week against Duke. His backup, Rodney Williams, has 5 yards a carry and is seventh on the Vanderbilt all-time rushing list.
But the Commodores rank in the lower half of nearly every statistical category in the SEC, averaging 22.3 points (ninth) and allowing opponents an average of 246.9 passing yards. Florida leads the league in passing offense and is the SEC's leader in total offense.
Vanderbilt coach Woody Widenhofer said today's game might be more of a challenge than in previous years.
"As much film as I have looked at on Florida, I see no weaknesses," Widenhofer said. "I really think this is the best team they have had since I have been here. They have a terrific defense and an incredible amount of speed. I've got to believe that this is their best team."
Widenhofer said he will try to use the 1999 game as motivation for his players but added both teams are different now.
"We talked about how well we did play down there that day," he said. "It can be done again. I use every optimistic thing or anything I can get to build our players confidence."