Another Step Closer

Florida continued its quest for a chance at an SEC East title with a 35-17 win against the Commodores....

Grinning at a group of reporters, Florida safety Corey Bailey makes it known he's spitting the words out precisely as his coaches advised him.

"We're not worried about anything but next week's game against South Carolina," says

Bailey, admitting he's been asked to steer clear of commenting on the twisted late-season scenario.

So it may look good. And it may feel good, too. But to Florida's coaches and players, Saturday's jump to the top of the standings in the Southeastern Conference East doesn't mean a thing.

However, with one conference game remaining, the topic seems to essential to avoid.

Because of Saturday's 35-17 win against Vanderbilt (1-9,0-6), the No. 17 Gators find themselves in the most improbable of places – at the top of the standings in the Southeastern Conference East.

"It's nice," offensive guard Shannon Snell said. "At the beginning of the year, we were creeping toward the bottom. We had to climb out of that cellar. It means a lot to be sitting on top at this point."

Here's the problem. The view at the top may be nice, but it also might not last for long.

To be clear, the only reason Florida's 5-2 SEC record is better than the rest is essentially because the Gators have played more games than Georgia (4-2) or Tennessee (3-2).

Also stealing from the satisfaction of Saturday's win, the Volunteers managed to sneak away a victory against Miami mostly because of – ironically enough – the mishaps of former Gator Brock Berlin.

But that's no reason for the Gators to spend Saturday night somberly. They did still win, even if it was a mediocre performance against a struggling team.

Even though Florida refused to make life easy on itself – actually allowing the Commodores to pull within two scores more than halfway through the final quarter – the positives were certainly present.

"Anytime you go out and play three games the way we have, it's only natural that you're going to make mistakes eventually," said cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, who picked up his school record-breaking eight interception of the season. "We're just fortunate that we were able to overcome those mistakes,"

For instance, after a dismal ground attack against Georgia, the Gators pounded away for 194 yards on the ground in the second best performance of the season. Sparked by the play of senior tailback Ran Carthon, Florida orchestrated a pair of 80-yard drives which resulted in touchdowns.

Carthon finished the game as the leading rusher with 79 yards and one touchdown.

"We didn't run the ball effectively against Georgia, so we really focused on running the ball and breaking tackles," Carthon said. "I think we did a good job of that."

And it wasn't just the work of the senior. Backup tailback Ciatrick Fason piled on 53 rushing yards, along with two catches for 17 yards. The sophomore finished with his second two-touchdown game of the season.

"That's what's great about having running backs by committee," Carthon said. "There's always a set of fresh legs in there."

In an average performance (above average, considering his true freshman status), quarterback Chris Leak threw for 179 and completed 15-of-25 passes. Leak's display was slightly tainted by two interceptions, which appeared to be considerably telegraphed.

"We just try not to make the same mistake twice as the game goes on," Leak said. "It's going to happen sometimes. You'd think the corner route would be open considering their coverage. If you see a guy that's open, you've got to try to get it to him."

Zook was quick to defend his freshman phenom when asked if he thought Leak reverted to his freshman-like status.

"He threw two interceptions," Zook said. "We had a [first round NFL] draft choice [Rex Grossman] that threw four interceptions last year. I'm very impressed with Chris."

Perhaps the most successful operation Saturday was the Gators' ability to pick off passes.

Ratliff's 52-yard interception return in the final minute capped off a four-interception night. Senior safety Daryl Dixon picked off a career-high two passes, while safety Corey Bailey had one of his own.

Freshman linebacker Channing Crowder showed continued signs of development as well. Crowder led all Gators with 13 total tackles.

So as the Gators continue to play like the best team in the conference, they'll continue to preach their one-game-at-a-time mentality. Florida will finish out its SEC schedule at South Carolina before hosting Florida State on Nov. 29 in its regular-season finale. "All I'm worried about is South Carolina," Zook said. "If we don't beat South Carolina, none of this makes any difference."

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