Thursday, January 2, 2003

Outback: Michigan 38, Florida 30

Zook calls will haunt Gators in offseason

Florida Today

TAMPA, Fla. - Florida coach Ron Zook heard his assistants discussing what was coming and he really didn't have a good feeling late in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's 38-30 Outback Bowl loss to Michigan.

The Gators were driving, with the ball at Michigan's 27 after a 15-yard personal foul penalty and a 10-yard pass to Taylor Jacobs. Just over than a minute remained.

Then UF offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher, sitting in the press box, called a "Special" down to the sidelines for it to be signaled in to Gators quarterback Rex Grossman. It just might have been the last play of Grossman' s college career - with the junior close to announcing whether he will leave for the NFL - and possibly the one play Florida followers will remember until next September.

It could also be a play that will haunt the Zook-Zaunbrecher era at UF.

Grossman handed the ball to receiver Keiwan Ratliff, who gave it to fellow wideout Vernell Brown, who played some quarterback in high school. The left-handed Brown, running to his left, was supposed to throw the ball back to Grossman and catch the Wolverines off-guard.

One problem.

He failed to fake out the charging Michigan defensive line. Before collapsing a heap of tacklers, Brown hurled a wild pass into the air.

Linebacker Victor Hobson picked it off and returned the ball to the Florida 28 with 54 seconds left.

"Right after the 15-yard penalty there, we moved it down in there and I said, 'Are we sure we want to do this now?' " said Zook, when he heard the play first being discussed. "They were lining up in man coverage all the time. Any time you're in man coverage, the quarterback's uncovered. It's something we'd worked on quite a bit. ... When you do plays like that, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't."

This one will bring out the critics all winter. UF will finish outside the top 15 in the national polls for the first time since 1989. It was the most points the Gators have given up in a bowl game since a 62-24 humbling to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl after the 1995 season.

"Rex should have been throwing the ball, not catching it," Gators offensive guard Shannon Snell said. "If I could go back and change it, I probably would do the same thing, but I wish somebody would have trumped the call and just called a pass."

Grossman backed the decision, with a lukewarm response.

"We were moving the ball pretty well on them," he said. "In hindsight, yeah, (a regular pass play) would have been a better decision."

As for the "Grossman Decision," that could still be a few days away - if he sticks to his timetable.

"I'd like to see him come back," Zook said. "We've talked about it. We talked about it a little bit (Tuesday) afternoon. He'll make a decision here in the next few days on what he feels like is best for him and best for his career. He knows this: He's always a Gator. As I told him and told his father, whatever he does, him and I will always be friends. He can always call me. He'll do what's best for him."

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