Originally created 11/15/02

Gators need win, and some help

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The days of "Win and You're In" are over at Florida. Now, scoreboard watching is in vogue.

The 20th-ranked Gators still have a chance at the Southeastern Conference title, but only if they defeat South Carolina on Saturday and Auburn tops Georgia in a game scheduled to end about 45 minutes after Florida kicks off.

It is relatively new territory for Florida (7-3, 5-2), and while the Gators are inspired by the thought that they could still win the SEC East, the reality is that they don't control their destiny.

That's the price they pay for their wildly uneven effort in Ron Zook's first year as coach.

"It's imperative that we stay focused on what we control," Zook said. "We've gotten on this little win streak here. We're going to focus on one game at a time."

Human nature, however, would dictate that the Gators will want to know their fate before they take the field. That's why the hottest questions this week had little to do with the Gamecocks (5-5, 3-4), who need another win to become bowl eligible, and everything to do with Florida's pregame plans.

Some players say they'll try to keep an eye on the Georgia-Auburn game. Others will try to ignore it. Most believe they won't have much of a choice because their own pregame routine will be in full swing while Georgia and Auburn are playing.

Zook, meanwhile, claims he hasn't figured out what he's going to do.

"I probably haven't really thought about that," he said. "But that's not something that I'm probably going to worry about. Because if they're worried about that, they're not worried about what they have to do here. That's not something that I foresee them doing."

Of course, nothing has really gone the way Zook planned it this season.

Florida's offense has been a clash of ideas and egos. Early in the season, Rex Grossman more-or-less got busted calling audibles from Steve Spurrier's system when he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown against LSU.

Since that game - the low point of the season - the Gators have nearly stopped throwing downfield, opting for short receiver screens that gain 6 and 7 yards at a time. Last week, Zook overruled offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher when he tried to open it up a bit.

The reason: Zook says it's a matter of taking what the defense gives him. An honest look at the games, however, says the Florida offensive line is having trouble protecting Grossman on any kind of intermediate or long route.

"We do need to stretch the field to keep people honest, but that's not what we do best right now," Grossman said.

The defense has been the steadiest unit. Coordinator John Thompson has implemented a system he used in Arkansas that has produced 17 turnovers and won games for the Gators. Yet there are still some questions. Most notably - where did the defense go when Auburn rallied from 16 points down to send the game into overtime four weeks ago?

Special teams? Zook, a special teams guru, has failed miserably. He has used an ex-punter as kicker, a second-string quarterback as punter, an erstwhile linebacker as a kickoff specialist - and those are only half the players who have tried some form of kicking for the Gators this season.

"I've thought about it more than anybody in this room, I can assure you, but I don't have the answer," Zook said of his kicking dilemma. "I wish it was something simple. You've got to keep working and get them all to come through."

Despite all the troubles, the bottom line is that the Gators are one win, and one not-so-unlikely break from going back to a very familiar scene - Atlanta and the SEC title game. They have been in the game seven of the 10 times it has been played.

"It's not hard to believe," Gators defensive lineman Clint Mitchell said. "We just did what we had to do. We did what coach asked us to do. We've got some of the best athletes in the country. We knew we could put stuff together."


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