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Something special's in the air

Jeff Chandler gives UF an explosive edge on special teams.


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- The legacy of the Florida State-Florida series, at least during the last decade, belongs to the dazzling exploits of the usual suspects:

Quarterbacks such as Charlie Ward, Danny Kanell and Danny Wuerffel; running backs Warrick Dunn and Fred Taylor; and receivers Jacquez Green, Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony and Peter Warrick.

Big-time players.

Big-time plays.

But last year's showdown should be remembered for the heroics of FSU linebacker Tommy Polley, whose blocked punt in the third quarter turned the game in the Seminoles' favor for good, FSU kicker Sebastian Janikowski and even FSU reserve defensive back Todd Frier, who recovered an onside kick.

The Seminoles' special teams were extra special in that 30-23 win in Gainesville and the area of the game that may again be the key in tonight's matchup.

If so, FSU coach Bobby Bowden frets that the Gators have the edge with kicker Jeff Chandler and return man Lito Sheppard.

"That's where they'll have an advantage," he said.

Chandler, already UF's career-scoring leader (260 points) who was just awarded a fifth year of eligibility, has made 16 of 19 field goals this season, including his last 11. His longest was from 54 yards.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles have used three different kickers and, while freshman Brett Cimorelli has been solid the last few games, he is 0-for-2 beyond 40 yards.

"This is the first time we've had an edge in the kicking game," Chandler said. "Kicking is 90 percent mental. They've never played in a game like this. Their kicker will have a lot of pressure put on him."

Erratic kicking proved costly for FSU in its lone loss to Miami earlier this season. Not only did Matt Munyon miss from 22 and then, on the game's final play, from 49 yards, but fears affected FSU's play-calling in the first half.

"You have to want a situation to come to you," said Cimorelli, the former Zephyrhills star. "If it comes down to a field goal, hopefully I can kick it."

Sheppard, a star cornerback, is 12th nationally in punt returns (15.5-yard average) and has brought two back for touchdowns, including a backbreaker in the waning moments of the half last week against South Carolina.

The Seminoles, on the other hand, have been uncharacteristically pedestrian on punt returns (10.6 yards, 41st nationally) and haven't broken one for a score, although receiver/tailback Nick Maddox had one called back.

"I haven't broken one and I've fumbled the ball beside that," FSU cornerback/punt return Clevan Thomas said. "It's about time for me to do something big."

Last season, the Seminoles blocked seven kicks, including the potential tying field goal by Clemson and the punt against the Gators that set up the go-ahead touchdown. This year, they have one.

"We're not very good at blocking punts this year," FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "We don't seem to have quite as much hunger in blocking kicks. Maybe that's us; maybe that's coaching."

Polley pointed out that four of FSU's blocks came in the final three games and maybe "it'll pick up at the end" again. As strong as UF's special teams have been overall, punting has been a problem. Alan Rhine has had three punts blocked, two last week alone that gave South Carolina touchdowns, and UF has had four overall.

"We speeded up our punter a little bit and got some new blockers in there," coach Steve Spurrier said. "We don't have all linebackers trying to block now. We found out they're not the best blockers in the world."

Added quarterback Jesse Palmer: "We've paid a lot of attention to special teams this week."

So too might history.

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