FOOTBALL: Zook turns focus onto MTSU

It has been a rough week for Ron Zook. <p> A loss to LSU Saturday ratcheted the pressure up several notches on the embattled third year coach. A second Southeastern Conference loss in four league games was bad enough, but Tuesday, a story broke of an incident involving Zook, Florida football players and a fraternity that happened back in September.

With rumors flying and speculation plenty, Zook turned the focus of Wednesday night's post-practice press briefing to Middle Tennessee State University, the Gators Saturday opponent.

"Our focus is Middle Tennessee now and that's what is important to me," said Zook, who was steadfast in his resolve to stick up for his players. "If you demand everything you can get out of them (your players), well, loyalty is a two-way street. It's their right and their parents right that when you talk to them that they know they have everything you have."

Zook confirmed once again that Chad Jackson will be replacing Vernell Brown as the number one punt returner.

"It's not that Vernell has done a bad job, because he hasn't," said Zook. "He has done a good job, just that Chad's hot a little bit right now. He's making big plays and he wants to do it (return punts). He made some unbelievable one handed catches out here today that just blew me away."

Middle Tennessee quarterback Clint Marks is completing 77.2 percent of his passes this season, the Gators have been spending plenty of time getting the defense ready. Through five games, Marks has a 155.6 quarterback efficiency rating. He has completed 137 of 177 passes, good for 1519 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.

"He throws for a very high efficiency," said Zook. "Some of the passes are short passes, s shovel passes.and things like that but still causes you problems. He can also throw it on the move and throw it down the field."

Defensive tackle Ray McDonald (sprained ankle) is coming along well in practice and linebacker Todd McCullough (high ankle sprain), who saw his first extended action in a game last week against LSU, continues to improve. With safety Jarvis Green suspended for the game along with middle linebacker Channing Crowder, Zook indicated that Zephine Augustine, Kyle Jackson and Jermaine McCollum will all see action at the vacant safety position.

"We have two choices," said Zook. "Zeph will play nickle or we can move Corey (Bailey) up there and play Kyle Jackson or we can play Big Twin (Jermaine McCollum). All three of those guys are in the mix. With as much stuff and personnel as they(Middle Tennessee) play, they'll all need to be in there at that situation."

Replacing Crowder will be true freshman Brandon Siler, who will also get help in the middle from junior Todd McCullough and fellow freshman Javier Estopinan.

Stopping the Raiders, Zook said, means that the Gator defenders have to step up their game.

"We have to make plays," said the coach. "We're a talented enough football team. Now it's time for someone to step up and make plays."

Marks has a great target in senior wide receiver Kerry Wright, a cousin of Gator linebacker Travis Harris.

"I guarantee you number one (Wright) could play here," said Zook. "He's a very talented guy."

Wright was recruited to Middle Tennessee by Larry Fedora, now the Gators offensive coordinator. Through five games, the MTSU wide receiver has 41 catches for 553 yards and five touchdowns, including an 80-yard scoring strike from Marks.

"Kerry Wright is a spectacular athlete," said Fedora. "He's a great kid and a very special player. He has tremendous speed, good athletic ability. I'm not surprised at all at what he's doing there."

Fedora has been re-tuning the Florida offense this week after a game that saw Chris Leak complete less than 50 percent of his passes for the first time since he has been a starter. Fedora said that LSU's defensive scheme had a lot to do with Leak's off night stating that that LSU did a good job of disguising its intentions, showing blitz on nearly every down but instead of bringing people almost every play as they did the previous week against Georgia, the Tigers were blitzing perhaps only one of every four plays.

"They did a good job of changing their game plan and changing their tendencies of what they had done coming into the game," said Fedora. "I think they did a good job of making Chris (Leak) think they were coming at him every play. But, even so, it still boiled down to we had some opportunities to make some big plays and we didn't make them."

Fedora acknowledged that it was not Leak's best game in the year and a half he's been at Florida, but even so, the sophomore quarterback did plenty of good things.

"At that position at the University of Florida, you get too much of the credit when things are good and too much of the blame when you lose," said Fedora, who mentioned that Leak's demeanor allows him to put the past behind him and totally focus on the task ahead.

"We don't worry about Chris," said Fedora. "The last game is behind him and he's totally focused on Middle Tennessee now."

Fedora was the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State prior to coming to Florida. MTSU Coach Andy McCollum is a friend who Fedora says gets his teams ready to play.

"They'll come in here and they won't be intimidated," said Fedora. "He (McCollum) will have an us against the world mentality that will pull those guys together and they'll come in here ready to play."

ZOOK NOTES: Zook said he has had discussions this week with quarterback Cornelius Ingram about what date he will be leaving football practice to join the basketball team. Zook said he has talked with Ingram, Ingram's family and with basketball coach Billy Donovan and that a decision will be made shortly. "He's gonna go play basketball pretty soon," said Zook. "I would like to keep him to the end of the month but if it's not what he wants, then he'll go play basketball." Zook said that Ingram has done a lot of good things in practice that indicate that someday he will be an extraordinary player. "They guy has a chance to be a special guy on the football field," said Zook ....Zook said that while Fedora and the Gator offense are different, fans can expect to see some similarities offensively on Saturday.

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