Escape

Chris Leak and some other freshmen help lead the Gators to victory over Kentucky. Florida erased an 18-point 4th quarter deficit to escape Lexington with a victory.

Saturday in London, England, illusionist David Blaine was contained in a clear plastic box above the River Thames entering Day 22 of a 44-day endurance test with no food or drink, other than water.

Thousands of miles across the globe in Lexington, Kentucky, another man was in the midst of fighting for his own survival. Only the consequence of failing was far greater than for Blaine. Wild hallucinations and potential kidney failure are nothing compared to what Ron Zook would've faced from a rabid Gator Nation had he not made an escape of epic proportions against all odds.

Facing an 18-point fourth quarter deficit on the road against a mediocre-at-best Kentucky team, Ron Zook's club came back from the dead to save its season and possibly the career of its general with a miraculous 21-point fourth quarter. The rally's biggest plays were appropriately sparked by two true freshmen in Chris Leak and Channing Crowder, and a walk-on in Johnny Lamar. Leak's two touchdown passes and Lamar's interception made possible by Crowder's defensive pressure gave Florida a win in its first official "must win" game of the season. It's only appropriate that three players who some would say have no business playing significant roles for the University of Florida at this point would help the coach whose harshest critics say has no business playing his role at the University of Florida.

This has the making of a tremendous story in college football. The disparaged head coach and his band of kids beating the odds and proving to the rest of the college football world that the once-proud program that dominated the SEC for the better part of a decade is now back.

That would be a great story. However, there's another story that could play out, and it's not one that Gator fans want to think about. The poise and resiliency the young Gators showed in the face of adversity were incredibly impressive. But there was really no excuse for the performance of this team for the first three quarters. Costly penalties, careless turnovers, and generally uninspired play characterized the action before the great final quarter. It makes one wonder what the possibilities are for the rest of this season if this team continues to play down to its competition.

There is a real possibility for five more losses this season. That's not even taking into account next week's matchup with a team the Gators lost to last year. Road trips to LSU, Arkansas, and South Carolina, mixed in with FSU and Georgia mean that performances like Florida's for the first three quarters last Saturday just won't cut it the rest of the way.

Teams are known to be ignited by desperation wins like the one against Kentucky and come together to go on to bigger things. This could very well be the case, as this team is stocked full of players who are still figuring out what it takes to win in college football. But youth hasn't always been the main culprit for the Gators this season. It was senior Guss Scott's blown coverage that set up a Tennessee score that could've been/should've been an interception. It was the head coach's dreadful decision at the end of the first half that made the Hail Mary possible. And it was the senior laden secondary that gave up gobs of passing yards to Miami in the second half of that improbable comeback.

Five games into the season, there are still more questions than answers. What is Florida's primary goal on offense? Dink and dunk? Pound with the run? Attack deep? Is Ron Zook a good enough game manager to win big games consistently in the SEC? Will the Gators ever play four quarters of solid football?

Despite all the questions, there is one irrefutable answer, and that is Chris Leak as the starting quarterback at the University of Florida. The 18-year-old answered the question of ‘why in the world would Florida play an 18-year-old at quarterback' in a resounding manner. While Brady Quinn, Notre Dame's freshman phenom making his first start, was in the process of getting picked off four times and bombing in his debut, Leak was busy showing just what all the hype was about. Leak displayed uncanny poise and composure for a freshman in leading Florida on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives on the road, including a daring fourth down pass to Carlos Perez in the end zone with Ran Carthon and Ben Troupe both open underneath with first down yardage.

That play was indicative of why Leak has the potential for greatness. It was the brazenness, the cockiness, the lack of fear to attempt a lower percentage pass that will get six points as opposed to a higher percentage pass that ensures a fresh set of downs. Leak didn't even look underneath. He wanted six. And he knew he would fit the ball in there to Perez. And that's what separates great competitors from the rest. He was just as unafraid of an incompletion as he was unfazed by the two interceptions earlier in the game.

There will be more interceptions this year, but there will also be moments like that fourth down play against Kentucky, where Leak gives everyone a glimpse of what he will become. As he gains more and more experience, those moments will start to outnumber the moments of confusion and inexperience.

They'll have to. His coach's future may depend on it.


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