Originally created 09/13/98

Gators beats Northeast Louisiana



GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If No. 3 Florida was using Saturday's game to send a message to Tennessee, the message was clear: The Gators still have a lot of work to do.

Jesse Palmer threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns and linebacker Jevon Kearse had two sacks and a fumble recovery in Florida's 42-10 victory over Northeast Louisiana.

But it wasn't a very impressive tuneup for next week's Southeastern Conference showdown against No. 8 Tennessee.

"It was the sloppiest offensive game I can remember," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said. "We're not that much better talent-wise than the teams we're going to start playing now. If we don't get a lot smarter, start playing within the rules, playing like we know what's going on, we could be in dire straits."

The Gators (2-0) usually make huge strides between their first and second games, such as last year's 82-6 romp over Central Michigan in the second week. But they took a step backward against the Indians (1-1), especially where turnovers and penalties were concerned.

Palmer threw two interceptions and at least three other balls that could have been picked off. The offense coughed up two more fumbles. A fifth turnover came after cornerback Tony George picked off Andre Vige's pass, but fumbled it away after a 20-yard return.

There was a defensive holding call that nullified another Florida interception, as the Gators committed nine penalties for 76 yards.

The lowest point came in the third quarter, when a holding penalty and a bad snap in the shotgun formation gave Florida third-and-37 from the Northeast Louisiana 49, prompting Spurrier to send in the punting team.

"That was the first one of those I can remember in a long time," Spurrier said. "But I was sort of sick of watching us play offense and I felt like (punter Josh) Korn deserved his shot."

Korn punted it into the end zone and the Indians responded by driving 80 yards for a touchdown to make the score 35-10.

The mistakes overshadowed some bright spots for the Gators.

The defense looked better than it did in the opener, when it allowed 137 rushing yards to Division I-AA Citadel.

Vige finished just 14-for-38 for 157 yards, with two interceptions. The Gators held the Indians to just 12 first downs and 148 yards of offense.

It was a different story on the other side of the ball. For every Palmer touchdown pass, there seemed to be an equally big mistake.

In the second quarter, he got confused by a zone defense on a third-and-goal from the 6 and threw an interception to Pat Dennis.

The drive before, he floated a pass to the sideline that was nearly intercepted and returned for a touchdown by J.J. Patterson. Before that, Northeast Louisiana's Brian Taylor and Sirl Wright twice combined for strips and fumble recoveries to end promising Florida drives.

"It was a little bit of a mental roller coaster," Palmer said. "You know, going up and down, some good plays, some bad plays. We were just trying to fight through and trying to get out on a good note."

Terry Jackson finished with 117 yards rushing on 16 carries to surpass the 100-yard mark for the second straight week. His 2-yard run opened the scoring on the game's first drive.

The passing game took over from there, with Palmer hitting Nafis Karim for 19-yard touchdown on a drive set up by Kearse's trifecta -- a sack, strip and fumble recovery -- against Vige.

On Florida's next drive, Palmer hit Travis Taylor 20 yards downfield. Taylor spun around, faked out Taylor and took to the sideline for a 65-yard score and a 21-0 lead.

Backup quarterback Doug Johnson made his first appearance of the season in the fourth quarter. Johnson, who lost the starting job while rehabilitating from offseason shoulder surgery, finished 3-for-4 for 31 yards.

His entrance brought big cheers from the crowd.

Nothing, however, brought a bigger roar than when Florida State's 24-7 loss to North Carolina State was shown on the scoreboard. It was a fitting symbol on a day when the Gators couldn't sustain anything for long enough to whip their fans into a frenzy.

Like Citadel last week in a 49-10 loss, Northeast Louisiana left the Swamp with a measure of pride for their performance. The Indians also made $400,000 for the trip.

"It showed our guys that we can be competitive," Indians coach Ed Zaunbrecher said. "We hung in there against a great football team. We didn't play as consistently as we'd like to, but if we iron out the mistakes, we can be a really good team."

The win was Florida's 23rd straight at the Swamp, tying a record first set from 1990-93.