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Expect to see new players protecting punter vs. FSU

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 13, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- Coach Steve Spurrier has the answer to his team's problem of having punts blocked this season.

New protectors.

The Gators had consecutive punts blocked and returned for touchdowns in a 41-21 victory against South Carolina Saturday, bringing UF's total of blocked punts this season to five.

With a showdown at No. 3 Florida State up next, No. 4 Florida cannot afford such critical errors. Nor can it spare hours of valuable practice time to work on punt protection.

"We're not going to spend two or three hours trying to figure out how to do it," Spurrier said. "It's just effort. We'll try to get more reliable guys, try to get the snapper to snap faster and the punter to punt faster."

Alan Rhine has struggled at times to get punts away. Middle Tennessee State blocked two and Auburn one. But the Gamecocks exploited the protection breakdowns for 14 points.

"The first block, we turned a guy loose," Spurrier said. "The second one, we were sort of blocking the guy and the snap was a little high and the punter a little slow. Derek Watson leaned over and we punted it into his arm. If we'd punted it to the left, he wouldn't have been near it. He made a sensational play.

"Auburn blocked one that hit and went forward and they didn't score off that possession. So it's nothing new. South Carolina just blocked them backward and scored. We're not the smartest around here about protecting the punter."

Spurrier will encourage Rhine and long snapper Aaron Deal to pick up the pace, but most importantly he will audition new blockers for Saturday's game at Doak Campbell Stadium.

"I imagine all Gators anticipate some changes in there," he said.

PALMER LIKELY TO START: Spurrier said he is "pretty sure" senior Jesse Palmer will start at quarterback against Florida State. Palmer, who started the first six games, came off the bench to rally UF against Georgia and South Carolina when freshman Rex Grossman struggled.

"He's a senior and with all that's going on -- checking off, crowd noise -- his experience should help," Spurrier said. "He does have more experience so he should be better at making decisions. Rex is an excellent passer, but with decisionmaking and knowing where to go, he's just a freshman."

INJURY UPDATE: Offensive lineman Thomas Moody left Florida Field on crutches wearing a protective temporary cast after spraining his ankle in the second half against South Carolina. But the injury will not keep him out of the lineup against FSU.

"He should be able to play," Spurrier said. "We're very healthy for this late in the season. We should take our full team up to Tallahassee."

CHANGE IN FOCUS: Spurrier preaches that winning the Southeastern Conference title is his team's top priority. But not this week. With the Gators' place in the SEC title game on Dec. 2 assured, and the opponent from the West undetermined, Spurrier said there is no reason to think about the SEC this week.

"We don't need to concern ourselves with anything but the FSU game right now," he said.

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