Florida pulls away from Ohi0, 34-6

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 15, 2002


-- In a game put on the schedule to build confidence and maybe break some records, No. 12 Florida did neither.

Led by two touchdowns from Earnest Graham, the Gators defeated Ohio 34-6 on Saturday night -- a score that looked much more impressive than Florida's performance.

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Still smarting from its 41-16 loss to No. 1 Miami last week -- and trying to get ready for next week against Tennessee -- Florida (2-1) didn't put the supposedly overmatched Bobcats (0-3) away until early in the fourth quarter of this waterlogged game.

For 90 mindboggling minutes, the Gators actually trailed 3-0, courtesy of an interception by Rex Grossman on his first throw of the night, a 48-yard field goal by Kevin Kerr and a frog-strangling thunderstorm that sent the teams to the locker room for a 46-minute delay.

During the wait, a handful of students jumped over the wall and did belly dives onto the soaked field. Turned out, they were some of the best moves Florida kids made all night.

Ohio didn't do anything fancy to stay in this game. In fact, the Bobcats ran the option all night and threw four measly passes. Just like last week against Miami, the Gators knew what was coming, but they couldn't always stop it.

It showed the most in the second quarter, when Bobcats quarterback Dontrell Jackson led his team on a beautiful 20-play drive that ate up 9:47, covered 63 yards and included four conversions on third- or fourth-and-short. Finally, the Gators stopped the drive and held the Bobcats to a field goal.

With 1 minute left in the first half, Florida led 7-6 against a team that lost 31-0 last week to Division I-AA Northeastern, and came in as a 42-point underdog.

With 118 yards on 29 carries, Jackson was the only 100-yard rusher of the night. He finished with 12 yards passing. Ohio held the ball for nearly 38 minutes.

Graham gave Florida a 7-3 lead seven plays after Grossman hit Carlos Perez for 36 yards on third-and-21. Grossman hit Matt Jackson for 15 yards on third-and-13 to keep the second scoring drive alive and give the Gators a 14-6 lead before halftime.

Ron Zook had to coach his heart out, and when he chose to punt on fourth-and-short in Ohio territory in the third quarter, the fans who stuck it out in the pouring rain booed.

It wasn't the only time.

Graham lost a fumble, Matt Piotrowicz sent a kickoff out of bounds and Mike Degory lobbed a shotgun snap over Grossman's head for an 11-yard loss. Under heavy pressure once, Grossman threw a nice pass -- to lineman David Jorgensen, who was standing near the sideline for some reason. The list went on and on.

It wasn't a totally unfamiliar condition for the Gators, who often struggled in these early season tuneups when Steve Spurrier was coach. But almost all those outcomes were well beyond doubt by the time halftime rolled around.

Not Saturday.

This game wasn't secure until Graham took a pitch from Grossman on an option play and scored a 40-yard touchdown for a 28-6 lead with 13 minutes left. Willie Green scored a few minutes later, but it only dressed up the score in an otherwise rugged night for the Gators. The Associated Press