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Gators give Zook needed big-game victory

9/22/2002

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Not so fast, Gator Haters.

Rex Grossman threw two of his three touchdown passes during a
24-point scoring spree late in the second quarter as No. 10 Florida
surprised No. 4 Tennessee 30-13 on Saturday.

The victory was exactly what the Gators needed in their quest to
prove they can win big games under new coach Ron Zook, just as they
did under former coach Steve Spurrier.

"Every win is big, but obviously this is a big one and I'm
going to enjoy it a lot,'' Zook said. "At the same time, we're
still not where we need to be but we're getting better and
better.''

In a splish-splashing five-minute span to close the first half,
the Gators (3-1, 1-0 SEC) made their point before a disbelieving
crowd of 108,722 at Neyland Stadium. While the Volunteers (2-1,
0-1) fumbled seven times in the rainy first half, Florida thrived
under the Swamp-like conditions.

"The conditions were not real conducive to hanging on to the
ball,'' Zook said, "but we were fortunate to hold on to it more
than they were.''

The Gators now have taken control of the SEC East and also
remain in national championship contention despite s 41-16 loss two
weeks ago to No. 1 Miami that had fans worried about the team's
direction under Zook.

The Vols, meanwhile, were bitterly disappointed after losing a
game they expected to win.

"That second quarter was an embarrassment. I apologize to the
fans and to the people who follow Tennessee football,'' Vols coach
Phillip Fulmer said, adding that he runs his team through a wet
ball drill every Tuesday.

When the rain subsided in the second half, Tennessee tried to
come back when Casey Clausen threw a 15-yard TD pass to Derrick
Tinsley and Jabari Davis scored from a yard out to get the Vols to
24-13. But the Gators refused to fold, thanks to Grossman. He threw
his third scoring pass -- a 21-yarder to Taylor Jacobs -- with 10:49
left in the game.

Grossman revived his Heisman Trophy chances by completing 20 of
34 passes for 324 yards and two interceptions. Jacobs, who caught a
7-yard TD pass in the second quarter, finished with nine catches
for 141 yards.

"Grossman, in my opinion, probably won the Heisman tonight,''
Fulmer said.

Clausen, who fumbled four times and lost one, was 30-of-44 for
285 yards.

The last four games of this rivalry were decided by four points
or fewer. This time, the margin was the largest since Florida's
62-37 win in 1995.

After a scoreless first quarter, the rain began falling heavily,
and that's when the Gators swamped the Vols. In a sequence that saw
Tennessee fumble the ball on four consecutive plays, the Gators ran
to a 24-0 halftime lead.

Florida's flurry began with controversy on Earnest Graham's
1-yard touchdown run with 4:55 left in the second quarter. On
fourth-and-goal, Graham appeared to be stopped for no gain. But
officials ruled the ball had crossed the goal line. Replays were
inconclusive.

Tennessee's troubles quickly worsened. On the Vols' first play
after the score, Clausen fumbled the snap and Marcus
Oquendo-Johnson recovered for the Gators at the Tennessee 24.

Three plays later, Grossman hit wide receiver Carlos Perez for a
28-yard TD pass, threading the ball into the end zone between four
Tennessee defenders with 3:40 left.

Then things got even nuttier. With the rain turning the field
into a quagmire, Corey Larkins fielded the kickoff on a bounce and
fumbled it away, and Florida's Johnny Lamar recovered at the Vols
20. But Tennessee temporarily turned back the Gators when
Grossman's pass was tipped and intercepted by Rashad Baker at the
1.

Clausen fumbled the next two snaps but managed to fall on the
ball each time. The Gators forced a punt, then took over on their
38 with 1:27 to go in the half. Grossman hit Perez for 22 yards as
the receiver slipped away from several would-be tacklers. Ran
Carthon then took off on runs of 16 and 5 yards before Grossman hit
Jacobs on the 7-yard TD pass with 42 seconds left for a 21-0 lead.

Then came the finishing touch: a seventh fumble. This time, Troy
Fleming lost the ball and Florida's Clint Mitchell recovered at the
Vols' 24 with 2 seconds left. Matt Leach ran onto the field and
kicked a 41-yard field goal -- the longest of his career -- and the
boos came down on the home team.

Kelley Washington, who topped 1,000 yards receiving last season,
played for the first time this season after being out with a
sprained knee. He caught two passes for 20 yards.