GAMEDAY: LSU favored<br>over floundering Florida

Did you know? <br><br> It was six years ago today LSU upset No. 1 Florida 28-21 in Tiger Stadium. <br><br> That's right, on Oct. 11, 1997 Herb Tyler rushed for two touchdowns and Cedric Donaldson picked off a pair of Doug Johnson passes as the Tigers beat the top-ranked team in the nation for the first time in the history of the LSU football program. <br><br> It's amazing how far the Gators have fallen.

In today's 21st century technology, the Internet has become perhaps the most used tool by the Florida Gator fan.


Especially the website, a site that was created the day the second-year head coach was hired to replace the legendary Steve Spurrier.


The site started off with a bang in 2002, particularly after back-to-back conference losses to Ole Miss and LSU.


A stellar 2003 recruiting class gave the Gator fans hope of a return to the national spotlight, but that hope seems to have faded with the Gators starting 2003 3-3 and are 1-2 in Southeastern Conference play, which has once again put on the favorite lists of Florida fans computers.


It is the earliest a Florida squad has achieved the three-loss plateau since the 1986 squad under Galen Hall started the season 1-4.


Committed to starting many young players, especially on the offensive side of the football, Zook and offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbracher have handed the keys of the Florida offense to true freshman quarterback Chris Leak.


The 6-1, 205-pound Leak was named Parade Magazine 2003 Player of the Year after setting a national high school record throwing 185 touchdowns and ranked second in national prep history with 15,593 career passing yards.


Rotating with Ingle Martin throughout the first four games of the season, Zook tabbed Leak the full-time starter three weeks ago and the freshman made his first career start against Kentucky. The Gators escaped Lexington with a 24-21 as Leak was forced to lead Florida to the school's largest fourth quarter rally on the road, trailing 21-3 at the start of the final period.


Showing flashes of his tremendous talent, Leak is 68-of-111 for 861 yards this season. Leak has thrown for six touchdowns but also has seven interceptions, including three picks last week in a 20-17 loss to Ole Miss.


Martin is serving in a backup role. Looked upon to replace all-American Rex Grossman starting the season, Martin has been solid at times during the season, throwing for 654 yards on 47-of-77 passing.


In the backfield, the duo of Ran Carthon (5-11, 218, Sr.) and redshirt freshman DeShawn Wynn (5-11, 224) have made the Florida fans forget the name of departed three-year starter Earnest Graham. Carthon has rushed for 337 yards on 65 carries and Wynn has added 329 yards on 60 carries. Both backs have scored five touchdowns each.


Opening up holes for Wynn and Carthon is an offensive line loaded with experience.


Senior left tackle Max Starks (6-7, 349) and senior left guard Shannon Snell (6-4, 310) anchor the Gator front. Starks has 30 career starts while Snell, a 2002 second tam all-SEC selection, has 29 under his belt


Notorious for outstanding wide receivers, the 2003 Gators are no different.


Florida has five receivers with double-digit catches thus far this season. The wideout corps is led by senior Kelvin Kight (6-0, 200).


The Lithonia, Ga. native is Florida's leading receiver, grabbing 24 balls for 339 yards and two touchdowns. O.J. Small has also hauled in 15 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown.


Senior tight-end Ben Troupe has been a favorite target for Florida quarterbacks catching 21 balls for 299 yards and two touchdowns.


While the youth movement has been prevalent on the offensive side of the ball, many young players have been forced to play on the defensive side as well. The Gators had to replace seven starters from last season; eight if you include defensive coordinator John Thompson, who left to become the head coach at East Carolina.


Charlie Strong returned to Gainesville replacing Thompson marking the fourth time in his career he has returned to become a member of the Florida coaching staff.


Running a 4-3 base defense and no starters with significant starting time returning in the front seven, Strong has used newcomers, who have had to grow up very quickly.


Perhaps the most experienced player up front for Florida is senior defensive end Bobby McCray (6-6, 245). McCray started five games last season and was named second team all-SEC by The Sporting News.


Junior Todd McCullough moves from weakside to middle linebacker this season and is the most talented linebacker on the team. McCullough played in all 12 games in 2002, starting four.


With three returnees back, the experience of the Gator defense lies in the secondary. Senior cornerback Keiwan Ratliff (5-10, 178) and senior safeties Guss Scott (5-11, 195) and Daryl Dixon (5-10, 190) have limited opponents to 201 passing yards a game and only three touchdown passes.

A duel threat, Ratliff is also a dangerous weapon for the Gator special teams, averaging nearly 15 yards on 14 punt returns this season.


Junior Matt Leech begins his second season as the full-time kicker with junior Matt Piotrowicz handling the kickoff duties. Another true freshman in 6-2 Eric Wilbur handles the punting duties.

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