UF Survives Melt-Down

For a few moments after Kentucky completed its miraculous comeback from 19 points down to take a 28-25 lead, there was a feeling of queasiness throughout Gator Nation. It was the sensing of an impending doom, a catastrophic natural disaster that would make Isidore look like a light drizzle.

Losing to Kentucky in the Swamp the week after what was supposed to be a program-saving win over Tennessee would likely have sent all of those Zook-doubters, and there still are many of them, into a frenzy. It also would've sent Gator fans into a Tropical Depression of their own.

Apparently, fans were the only ones who felt the game and the season slipping away during that bizarre third quarter, as the Gators calmly marched right back down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown, which was soon followed by Keiwan Ratliff's game-clinching interception return for a touchdown. Rex Grossman summed up the team's state of mind in the midst of all of the fans' hand wringing.

"It was really wild," Grossman said. "But at the same time, we knew we could drive the ball and score points. It's not like we were playing the New England Patriots."

Sounds like he was really worried, huh? Sounds more like a player on a team with supreme confidence that is starting to show why it and its coach had such boundless optimism even after its drubbing at the hands of Miami and the win against Ohio that was Tony Dungy-Era Bucs ugly.

Don't be fooled by the final margin of just seven points. This was not a game between two evenly matched teams where one squad simply got a couple better breaks than the other. This was a game dominated offensively and defensively from start to finish by Florida. Granted, special teams are a part of the game and Florida was about as dreadful in that department as a team can possibly be.

But Ron Zook said that the errors were simply mental breakdowns and are very correctable. Why shouldn't we believe him? After the Gators surrendered about, oh, 800 yards rushing to Miami and single-handedly vaulted Willis McGahee into the Heisman race, Zook said that the errors he saw on film were very correctable and that he would get them corrected, guaranteed. Florida responded by shutting down Tennessee's rushing attack in Knoxville, and then made the SEC's leading rusher, Artose Pinner, a virtual non-factor.

When you look beyond the 41-34 final score, you see a game where the Gators out gained Kentucky 509 to 268 and had 16 more first downs. Grossman played his best overall game of the season, throwing for 375 yards with no interceptions, while Earnest Graham topped 100 yards and Taylor Jacobs had yet another monster game. All the while, Jared Lorenzen and the Kentucky offense had trouble getting much of anything going. Artose Pinner was running into a brick wall for much of the day and Lorenzen looked confused and out of sync all game, thanks largely to John Thompson's complicated schemes and disguised coverages. The defensive players have really seemed to grasp Thompson's defense and are playing with great confidence and a real swagger for a change.

Confidence seems to be a theme lately, as lots of players seem to be acquiring a lot of it. Carlos Perez's performance Saturday should silence all questions of just exactly who, other than Taylor Jacobs, can make plays at the receiver spot. Perez is just one of a handful of players who seem to be coming into their own at just the right time. Keiwan Ratliff, Bam Hardmon, Clint Mitchell and Bobby McCray have all started to play at the level expected of them coming into the season.

Despite all the doubts and questions that have surrounded the Gators all year, as the season nears the midway point, Florida has the look of being the clear-cut best team in the conference, just as usual. Rex Grossman has regained his 2001 form, Taylor Jacobs continues to dominate despite double coverage and the defense has been stout two weeks in a row against talented and balanced offenses.

Now, if the Gators can just get a punt off, tackle a kick returner and manage to give up something less than 30 points a game off of special teams blunders, they could be in for another double-digit win, BCS bowl season in what was supposed to be the year where Florida came back to the pack.

Looks like the only college football superpower that's ready to be buried resides in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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