- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Grossman beats grossly unprepared every time.
Preseason Heisman Trophy favorite Rex Grossman threw for three scores as 10th-ranked Florida cashed in on a slew of Tennessee miscues to crush the fourth-ranked Volunteers 30-13 yesterday in a deluge at Neyland Stadium.
"It's sweet because we beat Tennessee in their building," said Grossman, who rebounded from an abysmal performance in Florida's 41-16 loss to top-ranked Miami earlier this month by shredding Tennessee's vaunted secondary for 324 passing yards. "If you've read anything lately about us, it probably hasn't been positive. A lot of people were doubting us. We had our backs against the wall a little bit, and we showed character and heart by fighting out there today."
You'd need a set of truck stop scales to measure the size of Grossman's heart. The 6-foot-1 junior from Bloomington, Ind., absorbed a beating from Tennessee's pass rush, but that didn't deter him from authoring a handful of jaw-dropping moments. Time and again, he shrugged off or slipped away from defenders, escaping near-certain sacks just long enough to find an open receiver downfield before he was snowed under by the one-step-late Vols.
One of those inconceivable Houdini acts led to the game's first score. Snapping a defensive stalemate that was largely the product of a driving rain, the 215-pound Grossman spun out of the clutches of Tennessee linebacker Keyon Whiteside midway through the second quarter and heaved a 52-yard completion to favorite receiver Taylor Jacobs (nine receptions, 141 yards, two touchdowns).
Tennessee corner Willie Miles gave up on the play, assuming a Whiteside sack, allowing Jacobs to slip behind him and haul in the bomb at the Vols' 2.
Four plays later, Florida tailback Earnest Graham lunged just close enough to the goal line to merit a controversial touchdown call, and the Gators (3-1) took a 7-0 lead with 4:55 left in the half.
Instead of responding to the dubious call with a scoring drive of their own, the Vols (2-1) spent the rest of the brief time before intermission trying to establish an NCAA record for incompetence.
On Tennessee's following possession, junior quarterback Casey Clausen bungled the center exchange as Florida recovered at the Tennessee 24. Three plays later, Grossman connected with wideout Carlos Perez on a crossing route to put the Gators up 14-0.
But the fumble-mania was only just beginning for the hapless Vols.
Return man Corey Larkins fumbled the following kickoff. And after Tennessee erased the error with a goal-line interception, Clausen continued his clown show. He fumbled the first two snaps from the Tennessee goal line, leading to an aborted series and an end-zone punt.
"We have the wet ball drill every Tuesday, and obviously we haven't coached it well enough," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, fuming after his worst home loss since a 31-0 thrashing by Florida in 1994.
Florida turned the miscues into quality field position and a Grossman-to-Jacobs touchdown toss on a fade route with 35 seconds remaining in the quarter.
But Tennessee still wasn't finished self-destructing. Instead of having Clausen simply take a knee and trying to regroup in the locker room, Fulmer called a draw to fullback Troy Fleming on Tennessee's next play. Predictably, Fleming fumbled, and Florida tacked on three more points on a 41-yard field goal from Matt Leach as the first half expired.
In less than five minutes, Tennessee had fumbled five times on seven touches, and Florida had turned a rain-soaked defensive struggle into a 24-0 rout.
"That was about the worst I've ever seen," said Fulmer of his team's horrific meltdown. "That second quarter was an embarrassment. I apologize to our fans and to everyone involved with Tennessee football."
Anybody involved with Tennessee football has to be more than a little disconcerted after yesterday's woeful performance. Over the last decade, it was assumed that the Vols' struggles with Florida could be directly attributed to former Gators coach Steve Spurrier. But perhaps fans and media were looking at the wrong sideline as an explanation for the lopsided series.
With Spurrier gone and the Gators supposedly vulnerable after their humiliating defeat by Miami, Tennessee was everybody's favorite to claim the mantle as SEC bully. But Fulmer's team was clearly unprepared to assume that role yesterday. All told, the Vols fumbled eight times, missed upwards of 20 tackles, failed to contain Grossman or Jacobs, had a 27-yard field goal blocked, missed an extra point and committed 11 penalties.
Fulmer's charges were so comically unprepared that they were penalized twice for having too many men on the field. You expect a little more from a man who commands the second-highest salary in college football. After all, Fulmer doesn't seem to have much trouble counting to $1.5million.
"As I told our football team, the buck starts and stops with me," said Fulmer. "As a staff, we didn't do our job getting this team ready to play. We made enough mistakes out there to lose two games. We didn't do anything well out there tonight."


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