Thursday October 4, 2012The Weekly List: Gators In the Wild, Wild SEC West
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Twenty years ago, the Southeastern Conference blew up its brand, expanding by two teams, splitting into two divisions and adding a controversial (but wildly popular) championship game that pitted East vs.West at season's end.
In two decades, the Gators have had some wild, wild West runs that no longtime Florida fans could forget.
To understand just how whacky the West has been, let's go back to 1993.
That was the year the Gators went to Louisiana State and bombarded the Tigers 58-3, handing the hosts the worst margin of defeat in the program's 118-year history. More perspective: Only 60,000 were in "Death Valley" that night -- and that number was considerably lower (as in a few thousand Florida fans) when the final gun sounded.
"This is a very embarrassing evening for everyone associated with LSU," Coach Curley Hallman said after the game.
A sign was left in the empty stands that night.
Fire Curley Early!
That '93 Tigers team was shut out by Texas A&M, lost at Kentucky, beat Alabama on the road and ended a 5-6 season getting drubbed at home by Arkansas. Obviously, things have changed in Baton Rouge.
So in honor of this weekend's monster showdown between No. 4 LSU (5-0, 1-0) and No. 10 UF (4-0, 3-0) at sold-out Florida Field, we're looking back at some milestone moments of Florida's run-ins with SEC West rivals.
Saturday's game will mark the 26th time in the expanded SEC era the Gators have played a ranked SEC West foe -- and the 10th time both teams have been ranked in the Top 10 at kickoff. And here's our 10.
Oct. 12-19, 1996
Florida 107, LSU/Auburn 23
OK, so we're taking some license here, but the true Gators will recall those back-to-back home games in October of '96.
No. 1-ranked UF absolutely pummeled 12th-ranked LSU to the tune of 635 yards, winning 56-13 in a homecoming game that looked very much like a date against Akron or Central Michigan, as opposed to a Top 15 SEC team.
"This is the kind of game a secondary dreams about because they pass so much," Tigers cornerback Cedric Donaldson said. "After this game, we'll have nightmares."
The down linemen probably didn't sleep very well either; not after both Elijah Williams and Fred Taylor rushed for more 100 yards.
Good day, right?
Well, a week later, No. 16 Auburn came to town and Steve Spurrier's runaway freight train slowed down not one iota. It probably didn't help that in the days leading up to the game, Tigers quarterback Dameyune Craig told reporters in Alabama that Florida's defense "had yet to been tested yet."
He could have said the same thing after UF's 51-10 beatdown that marked Auburn's worst loss since 1948. Florida's 625 yards of offense was the most ever amassed against a Tigers team.
Craig, by the way, finished seven of 28 for 84 yards, two interceptions and seven sacks.
The eight-day onslaught was as impressive a two-Saturday run (especially given the opponents) as the program ever put together.
Oct. 7, 2006
Throw-back night, courtesy of a throwback player
Freshman quarterback Tim Tebow entered the game to a second-and-goal with less than a minute to go in the first half. Everyone knew what was coming.
Or thought they did.
Instead of taking the snap and barreling into the line, Tebow made a move and ducked toward the scrum, but then pulled back and jumped up, double-clutching a Sammy Baugh-esque jump pass to tight end Tate Casey for a touchdown, as the Florida Field crowd went berserk.
"You've got to be creative in this league," Coach Urban Meyer later said.
That huge play, coupled with three interceptions of JaMarcus Russell, made for a huge moment in Florida football, fueling the No. 5 Gators to a 23-10 victory against the 10th-ranked Tigers that gave them a 6-0 record for the first time since that '96 national championship season.
Appropriate enough, as UF went on to capture its second national title.
Sept. 27, 2008
Ole Miss and "The Promise"
Memorable not so much for the loss (although the game was a thriller), but its aftermath.
Tebow's failed fourth-and-inches run iced a shocking 31-30 upset of the nation's No. 4 team. In his post-game interview, Tebow read his famous "Promise." The soliloquy now immortalized in stainless steel on a brick wall in the southeast corner of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Indeed, no player or team worked harder than the Gators the rest of the year and the results of Tebow's determination showed up instantly against two more SEC West opponents. Florida went on the road and smashed Arkansas 38-7, then returned home to face reigning national champion LSU and made striped mincemeat of the Tigers in a 51-21 blowout.
The 11th-ranked Gators racked up 475 yards in handing No. 4 LSU its worst loss in six years. The Tigers came in having won 19 in a row at night and 23 straight in regulation. Florida outgained LSU in yards 186-4 through a quarter and led 17-0 on the way to finishing finished with 475 yards of offense, including 265 on the ground.
"I think we had a little chip on our shoulder going into the game," Tebow said.
Oct. 16, 1993 and Oct. 15, 1994
Aw-Burned ... twice
Auburn was on NCAA probation, courtesy of the Eric Ramsey scandal, but new coach Terry Bowden had a little nice story and an unbeaten, 19th-ranked team when the fourth-ranked Gators visited the "Loveliest Village on the Plain."
The Tigers' probation prohibited the game from being televised, but it was beamed live via closed-circuit to Florida Field ... unfortunately for UF fans.
Down 13 at halftime, the Tigers shredded the Gators for 279 second-half yards and three touchdowns in a stunning 38-35 upset. Wuerffel threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns. Errict Rhett ran for 196 yards, but only had four carries after halftime.
Auburn went on to finish 11-0, but was ineligible for the postseason or SEC title.
The loss was such a bitter one for the Gators -- given their ranking; being Auburn; and courtesy of a kid named Bowden -- that Spurrier and his troops were salivating when the Tigers came to Florida Field the following year for a game that reeked of revenge.
Oh, and the Gators were ranked No. 1.
But Heisman Trophy favorite Terry Dean threw four interceptions and was benched for Wuerffel. UF turned the ball over six times, including a horrific interception in the final minutes after fighting to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
An 8-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Nix to Frank Sanders with 36 seconds left not only turned out the lights on a second straight unbeaten UF season -- and handed the Gators just their second home loss under Spurrier -- but made sixth-ranked Auburn 18-0 in two seasons under Bowden.
Easily, one of the most devastating defeats of the 1990s.
"Florida started No. 1 in the country based on last year. We beat them last year," Bowden crowed after the game. "We came here as 16-point underdogs and beat them again. You tell me, should we be No. 1? Yes!"
In the losing locker room, UF safety Lawrence Wright had this to say: "Everything went their way. I don't know if it's luck or if the Big Man's a Tiger."
Oct. 23, 2004
Mississippi State 38, Ron Zook 31
The struggling Bulldogs came in 1-5 overall and 0-3 in SEC play. They had lost 27 of their previous 32 conference games.
And they were 25-point underdogs.
More than 400 yards of total offense later -- and 251 on the ground, mostly from tailback Jerious Norwood -- host Mississippi State had handed No. 19 Florida one of its worst defeats in years.
"This is embarrassing for us," Gators coach Ron Zook said afterward. "We thought we were ready to play."
As unready as Zook's players were, he likely was less prepared for the fallout of the loss. Zook, 20-13 in three seasons to that point, was fired two days later, but agreed to coach the team for the remainder of the regular season.
Oct. 13, 2001
Good Rex, Bad Rex: The Beginning
Florida was ranked second when it went to No. 18 LSU and trampled the Tigers 44-15. UF quarterback Rex Grossman threw for a school-record 464 yards in just three quarters and the Gators amassed 632 yards of total offense.
"Rex played his best game as a Gator today," said Spurrier, whose team vaulted to No. 1 the next day.
The next week, Grossman was intercepted four times at Auburn. Damon Duval's 44-yard field with 10 seconds left -- capping a drive that began on the Auburn 2 -- gave the unranked Tigers a 23-20 upset.
The Gators were held to just 328 yards after gaining more than 500 in each of their first five games.
Oct. 2, 1999
Darrell Jackson caught three touchdown passes, but the play everyone remembered leaving Florida Field was the punt he muffed with just over three minutes to play to set up Alabama's tying touchdown and send the third-ranked Gators and 21st-ranked Crimson Tide into overtime.
UF scored first, with Doug Johnson hitting Reche Caldwell for a touchdown pass. Good start, right?
Except when Jeff Chandler pushed the point-after wide right.
On Bama's first OT play, tailback Shaun Alexander ran around left end for a 25-yard TD, his fourth of the game. Then, believe it or not, Tide kicker Chris Kemp pushed his PAT, too.
Believe It Or Not, Part 2: UF's Bennie Alexander was called for being offsides.
Alabama 40, Florida 39.
The loss snapped the nation's longest home winning streak at 30 games (dating to the aforementioned Auburn defeat of '94).
"No excuses," Chandler said. "I just missed it."
Oct. 1, 1992
The first trip West
Just 10 days after being thumped by rival Tennessee, the Gators crossed over into the SEC West for the first time in the league's first split-division season.
The Bulldogs went junkyard dogs on the Gators.
Mississippi State massacred Florida 30-6, intercepting Heisman Trophy candidate and two-time SEC Player of the Year Shane Matthews, a native of nearby Pascagoula, five times and sacking him three more in one of the most physical beatings of the Spurrier era.
In dumping the Gators to 1-2 in league play, the Bulldogs seemingly eliminated Florida from conference contention, but UF rallied to win its next seven games, while Tennessee faltered down the stretch. The
Gators won the first SEC East Division crowd and the right to play in the first SEC title game.
Oct. 11, 2003
Take that, Nick Saban
Despite being sacked six times and facing the wrath of Tiger Stadium and LSU's sterling defense, UF quarterback Chris Leak threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns in just the third start of his career to lead the unranked Gators past the No. 6 Tigers 19-7.
LSU's offense came into the game ranked first in the SEC, but was forced into eight punts and three turnovers. "This was a great win," Leak said. "We played our hearts out."
The victory came a week after a frustrating 20-17 home loss to Eli Manning and Ole Miss (another west team) and was just the kind of ebb and flow that defined Zook's time as coach.
For Coach Nick Saban and LSU, the loss was their its lone defeat of an '03 season on the way to the national title.
Oct. 5, 1996
Hog wild in Fayetteville
Despite taking one of the worst beatings of his career, Wuerffel passed for a school-record 462 yards, including a trio of TD strikes to Reidel Anthony, in a 42-7 victory at Arkansas.
[Note: This game actually preceded those two devastating dominant performances that started our list.]
As Spurrier jogged off the field with his top-ranked team, a Razorbacks fan screamed at him from the stands.
"Run it up some more, Spurrier!" he yelled. "You got no class!"
Spurrier pointed to the fan, clapped his hands and yelled back.
"Thank you, thank you!" UF's coach cheered. "We love it when you accuse us of that!"