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Despite sluggish outing, Gators win third straight

11/9/2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Florida Gators nearly helped the
SEC's worst team pull off its biggest upset in years.

Earnest Graham ran for 125 yards and a touchdown and Rex
Grossman added a TD run as No. 23 Florida (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) struggled past Vanderbilt
21-17 Saturday, one week after upsetting Georgia.

"I don't believe in a letdown factor, although we keep getting
in it so maybe there is something to it,'' Florida coach Ron Zook
said.

The Commodores (2-8, 0-6 SEC) have lost 12 straight to Florida
and 15 straight conference games, but they had plenty of chances to
end both losing streaks.

Vandy held the Gators scoreless in the second half and had the
ball with 5:41 left, but the Commodores couldn't move past their
own 34. Vandy entered the game as the least-penalized team in the
SEC, but their possession was stunted by an illegal-substitution
flag and a holding call.

After Vanderbilt turned the ball over on downs, the Gators (7-3,
4-2) ran out the final 96 seconds for a victory that keeps them in
contention for the league's Eastern Division title.

"A win is a win,'' Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff said.
"Two weeks from now, no one is going to look back and say, 'You
only won by this much.' They only look at wins and losses.''

Ran Carthon carried 14 times for 83 yards for the Gators, who
had more yards running (223) than passing. Grossman was 17-of-32
for 170 yards.

It was a much different atmosphere than the Gators found
themselves in last week at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail
Party. Only 28,881 fans were on hand, most wearing Florida orange,
the smallest crowd to watch Gators football since 1989.

"It's only human nature not to be as fired up,'' Grossman said.
"That was our challenge, and we came out with a victory, so we are
happy.''

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said he told his Commodores the
standard now is to win, not to come close like they have in 20
consecutive losing seasons.

"We're not going to whine about calls or anything else,''
Johnson said. "We want to win and we are not satisfied with coming
close. The game did prove that we can compete and play hard and
have a chance to win, but we still want to win.''

Florida hurt itself with several miscues in the first half,
including seven penalties, a kickoff that went out of bounds and
shanked punts of 24 and 16 yards.

The key play turned out to be Cory Bailey's interception of Jay
Cutler on Vanderbilt's first play from scrimmage. He returned it 24
yards to the Commodores 1 yard-line, and Graham scored.

With four freshmen on offense, Vandy couldn't do much with
favorable field position. After Florida's bad kickoff, the
Commodores settled for a 40-yard field goal by Greg Johnson to cut
the lead to 7-3. Guss Scott then intercepted Cutler for the second
time in the quarter at the Florida 32.

Florida finally settled down with a 13-play drive capped by
Carthon's 1-yard TD early in the second.

Brandon Smith took Ingle Martin's punt on the fly and ran up the
left sideline 65 yards before Martin tackled him at the Florida 10.
Matthew Tant scored two plays later to pull the Commodores to
14-10.

Florida led 21-10 at halftime with Grossman's 1-yard run that
capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive.

The Commodores turned in their best drive of the season at the
start of the second half with a 15-play, 80-yard drive, and Cutler
scored on a 1-yard run to pull Vandy to 21-17 with 7:30 left in the
third.

The Commodores, ranked 97th in the nation on defense, held
Florida to just 149 yards in the second half.

Florida's only scoring chance of the second half came early in
the fourth quarter, when the Gators got to the Vandy 30. But the
drive stalled, and Matt Leach missed his second field goal of the
game, a 48-yarder that came up short against a stiff wind.

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