7:45 PM ET, October 12, 2002
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- The emptying stands, the booing fans, the terrible passes and plays.
Florida coach Ron Zook was exactly right Saturday night when he said the Gators are in a completely new situation.
This week's embarrassment came courtesy of unheralded Matt Mauck and LSU (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP). The Tigers intercepted Rex Grossman four times and scored in almost every way imaginable for a 36-7 victory.
"I'm in shock,'' Florida receiver Taylor Jacobs said. "I really can't believe what's going on right now.''
The No. 16 Gators (4-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) lost consecutive conference games for the first time in 10 years, and played the fourth quarter in front of nearly empty stands at The Swamp.
LSU got its first win at Florida Field since 1986. The Tigers (5-1, 2-0) scored touchdowns on an interception return, a fake field goal and two passes from Mauck (13-for-20, 153 yards) to Devery Henderson.
"Sometimes you have to enjoy these things for 24 hours,'' LSU coach Nick Saban said. "We have a long way to go. We have a lot more tough games to play.''
The victory put the Tigers into a first-place tie in the SEC West with Mississippi, the team that defeated the Gators 17-14 last Saturday.
While the Tigers are in good shape for the second half of the season, the Gators are looking more and more like a team relegated to playing out the string.
They'll be aiming not for the kind of things they sought when Steve Spurrier was here -- like SEC titles and winning with pizzazz -- but for respectability, and maybe a few more touchdowns.
Of course, Zook, ever the optimist, sees things differently.
"We aren't out of this thing,'' he insisted. "You all can write that we are, but we're not.''
Corey Webster intercepted Grossman twice, and returned the second pick 45 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead late in the first quarter.
From there, it got worse. And worse.
"If we thought last week was bad, this week is going to be worse,'' Grossman said. "Eventually, we'll not care what happens, and eventually we'll get out of this slump.''
The low point -- or one of them, at least -- came on the first play of the fourth quarter, when holder Blain Bech ran 35 yards untouched into the end zone for a score and a 33-7 lead -- an insult made worse considering the Gators botched a fake field goal of their own on their first drive of the game.
"It was something you get once in a lifetime,'' Bech said. "In The Swamp, it was something else.''
Grossman finished 18-for-43 for 163 yards with one touchdown. He threw four interceptions for the second straight week, and now has 11 touchdowns and 14 picks on the season.
About the only fans left for the fourth quarter were the few thousand in the southeast corner clad in purple and gold.
By the time the Gators fell behind 26-7, Florida fans -- tired of booing and listening to LSU's band play the Tiger Rag -- were heading for the parking lot. The few who stayed sarcastically chanted "Ingle Martin,'' the name of Grossman's backup.
"We understand their frustration, but at the same time, we've not held up our end of the deal,'' Grossman said. "They paid pretty good money to come see us play.''
With their awful performance, the Gators are in jeopardy of seeing their nation-best, 209-week streak in The Associated Press poll end.
They lost consecutive SEC games for the first time since 1992, in Steve Spurrier's third year as coach. Those Gators were largely considered the least talented of the Spurrier era, yet the ol' ballcoach somehow coaxed them into the SEC title game.
But yet again, Zook showed he is no Steve Spurrier.
For the second straight week, the offense Zook and coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher designed went nowhere. Florida gained 237 yards and made 16 first downs.
The Gators tried no fewer than a dozen gimmick plays -- misconnecting on a fake field goal, getting tackled behind the line on an attempted halfback pass and handing off to Martin, who lined up at wide receiver.
They were calls that would have been deemed brilliant had Spurrier been on the sideline, but came off as cheesy and desperate in this game.
Grossman defended his coach.
"We have played well, everyone knows we can play well,'' Grossman said. "It's not because of the change of coaches. It's a great coaching staff. We just need a little more experience with them.''