FOOTBALL: Zook, Gators won't take MSU lightly

Ron Zook knows and understands how stuff happens when good football teams go into Starkville, Mississippi, so he isn't taking anything for granted this week when his number 19 Florida Gators prep for a road game at unranked Mississippi State Saturday afternoon.

Zook remembers all too well that Thursday night back in 1992 when he was on Steve Spurrier's staff and the Gators went into Starkville ranked 13 in the nation against a Mississippi State team that was a big underdog. By the time the final gun sounded, the Gators couldn't get out of Starkville quick enough. Mississippi State trounced Florida, 30-6.

"That's one of my top four worst coaching memories of my career at any level," said Zook after Monday's practice at The Swamp. As bad as Zook felt that night, it only got worse. He took off to go recruiting in northern Mississippi with the memory of that huge loss still weighing heavily on him.

"I got lost," he recalled. "It was a bad, bad night."

Florida (4-2) will be a prohibitive favorite Saturday against a 1-5 Mississippi State team that counts a loss to Division 1-AA Maine among its defeats. Zook dismisses what's happened so far to the Bulldogs. He's preparing the Gators just the same as if Mississippi State were ranked and undefeated.

"We will get their best game Saturday," said Zook. "The tape we're going to watch is not the team we're going to play. They've made some changes. I know Sly (Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom). Sly's good football coach and he's got a good coaching staff. They've got good players. I would hope that our players understand where we're at. In the SEC you can't take anyone for granted."

Zook worked the Gators only an hour Monday afternoon, but even though the team was out there a short time, much was accomplished.

"We got a bunch of work done," said Zook. "I was very impressed with as much as we got done."

The focus this week, in addition to prepping to play Mississippi State, will be developing consistency. Zook said that the one ingredient missing that stands between this team and success is consistency.

"We have shown signs we can be a good football team," said Zook. "We've shown signs that we can play with anybody. Now it comes down to being a consistent football team. You can't have a play here or a play there when you've got a player taking the play off. Now it comes down to being a consistent football team."

If the first practice for the Mississippi State game is a good indicator, then the Gators are not taking the Bulldogs lightly.

"Tonight was good," said Zook. "We were flying around, really focused and clued in on what we have to do."

ZOOK NOTES: Freshman quarterback Cornelius Ingram has officially joined the basketball team. "He wasn't out here so I'm assuming he was over there (basketball practice)," said Zook. ... The team is in good shape in regards to injuries. OJ Small's shoulder is still tender but he will be able to play Saturday, and Ray McDonald practiced Monday. His sprained ankle is coming along well ... The plan Saturday is to continue to split carries at the tailback position between Ciatrick Fason and DeShawn Wynn. "Deshawn deserves to be out there running the football and when you can keep both those guys fresh and coming after people it helps you all that much more," said Zook. Wynn had a season high 83 yards Saturday. Fason is the second leading rusher in the SEC ... Kyle Jackson graded out well in his first starting performance at safety. "He made a few mistakes but they all do that," said Zook. "He played fast and when they play fast that means they're reacting and not thinking. He wasn't thinking, he was flying around out there." ... Wide receiver Chad Jackson will continue to work as the top punt returner in addition to getting more shots at making plays with the first offense. Zook said Chad Jackson reminds him a lot of Jacquez Green, who made his mark first on the special teams back in the mid-1990s when Zook was the special teams coach under Spurrier. "He (Green) started making plays on the special teams and all of a sudden I wasn't allowed to use him," said Zook, noting that Green's chance to excel with the offensive team came after making one big play after another as a special teamer, much the same way that Jackson has earned his playing time this season. ... Freshman corner Dee Webb had his second straight game with an interception against Middle Tennessee State. "You almost have to slow him down a bit and that's what I like about him," said Zook. "I just love his competitiveness. We all felt he was going to be a big time player when we recruited him. Now it's his job and he's gotten better every single game."


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