Florida's composed coach has fans losing their cool

Zook takes in stride bad call, bad loss to Tenn.

Analysis

College Football

September 20, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

There are many reasons Florida football fans don't like Ron Zook. The biggest is he isn't Steve Spurrier. He doesn't coach like Spurrier and, just as importantly, he doesn't act like Spurrier. Take Saturday night's 30-28 loss to then-No. 13 Tennessee in Knoxville.

By all rights, Zook should have stormed after the officials at Neyland Stadium after one of them basically handed the game to the Volunteers with a brutal call against the then-No. 11 Gators that helped set up James Wilhoit's game-winning 51-yard field goal with six seconds to go.

The penalty, a personal foul on wide receiver Dallas Baker, came after Baker slapped a Tennessee defensive back in retaliation after Baker had been slapped himself. Instead of off-setting penalties, the Volunteers, who had used up their timeouts, were given a 15-yard gift.

What did Zook do?

He barely blinked, saying later, "Somebody hit our guy and we retaliated. They always get the second guy."

The Gator Nation will probably see that as a character flaw, but Zook definitely showed an incredible amount of restraint in a game that will likely cost Florida a shot at the Southeastern Conference East title and could have implications on the national championship picture.

Even his players bought into Zook's don't-blame-the-ref mantra.

"There's going to be adversity during the season," said tailback Ciatrick Fason. "Coach Zook always says that. We just have to be willing to put it behind us. It's a long season. There's a long way to go."

No transfer

Wilhoit had been one of the most consistent place-kickers in Tennessee history, having made 50 straight extra points before his late shank looked like one of Phil Mickelson's tee shots in the Ryder Cup.

But what would have happened had he not gotten a chance for redemption or had missed the 51-yard field goal as well. Can you spell t-r-a-n-s-f-e-r?

Funny thing is, when Phillip Fulmer was recruiting Wilhoit, so apparently were the Gators.

"I was asked when I was being recruited here if I had a chance to win the game if I'd want it to be at home or away. Would it be in The Swamp?" Wilhoit said. `And I said, `No way.' I'd rather it be at home so we could rush the field."

Happy birthday

Speaking of gift calls, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville was the recipient of one in the then- No. 14 Tigers' 10-9 win over then- No. 5 LSU.

Tuberville, who turned 50 Saturday, can send a thank-you note to the NCAA for a rule that enabled John Vaughn to get a second chance after his first try at a game-winning extra point was botched by a bad snap.

The second opportunity came when it was ruled LSU defensive back Ronnie Prude, in trying to leap up to block the kick, had landed on Auburn snapper Pete Compton's back.

"Sometimes in a good season, you just have to have lucky things go your way," said Tuberville.

LSU coach Nick Saban, whose national defending champion Tigers won their season opener when Oregon State missed three extra points, couldn't scream too much about the new NCAA rule.

Saban is on the committee that passed the rule, though he was among the dissenters.

"We've struggled to get a clear definition of even what the rule is," said Saban. "I'm sure that we probably didn't do it correctly and deserved to have the call."

On further review, Saban had more to say.

"It was a cheap penalty to end up losing the game," said Saban.

Death Valley days

There was lots of excitement at Clemson going into the season. Tommy Bowden's future seemed secure after last year's late-season turnaround helped him earn a new contract. Charlie Whitehurst had emerged as one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's top quarterbacks.

Some even thought the Tigers could be a dark horse to beat out Florida State and Miami to win the ACC.

After three weeks, Clemson could be the biggest disappointment in the country, barely squeaking by Wake Forest in overtime in the opener, then losing at home to Georgia Tech and, after falling out of the Top 25, on Saturday at Texas A&M.

"We could have at least made it a game if we'd shown up," Whitehurst said after the Tigers lost, 27-6, in College Station, in part because of the quarterback's three interceptions and fumble. "We haven't shown up all year."

Bowden doesn't want to use the home loss to the Yellow Jackets - who then lost at North Carolina - as an excuse for what happened against the Aggies. "You don't know how much it carries over," said Bowden. "I don't want to blame it on last week."

It could get worse for the Tigers before it gets better. They have to play at Florida State Saturday, with the eighth-ranked Seminoles wanting to avenge last year's loss.

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