Thrive on adversity

Arkansas game just another tough road test


Published: Wednesday, October 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 at 11:41 p.m.
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Maybe he just needs to get away from The Swamp a little more. Whatever the case, Florida head coach Ron Zook's SEC record away from home is 5-1. On Saturday, he takes his act to Fayetteville, Ark.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
The more desperate the situation, the more doubters lurking out there, the better the Florida Gators seem to play. Ron Zook has been saying this since last season, when UF followed back-to-back losses with a four-game winning streak. Now, it appears to be happening again.
The Gators are developing a reputation for being hard to get rid of.
Florida seems to thrive on adversity - especially when it's encountered outside the warm and friendly confines of The Swamp.
Last Saturday's victory over No. 6 LSU in Baton Rouge is the latest example. In a game few thought they could win, in a most hostile environment, the underdog Gators outplayed another Top-10 team on the road and came away with a must-have victory in the face of elimination in the SEC East race.
"Sometimes we play the spoiler role, and we've got a team that really doesn't quit," sophomore center Mike Degory said.
That may be as good an explanation as any for Florida's rather remarkable road success against ranked SEC teams under second-year coach Ron Zook.
Last Saturday, it was LSU. Last season, they did the same to No. 4 Tennessee in Knoxville and No. 5 Georgia in Jacksonville.
All three games featured a similar scenario: The Gators were considered down and with no chance to win, but responded with a top-10 performance of their own.
Those are three huge road wins against Top-10 teams in less than two seasons. That's certainly reason enough for the Gators to feel pretty good about traveling to No. 11 Arkansas this weekend.
"I remember beating Tennessee on the road," said Degory, when asked his favorite road victory. "You can consider Georgia a big one because we didn't play here. LSU ranks up there, too. Hopefully, this one (Arkansas) also will be a good one, one to remember."
The Gators seem to thrive on the road under Zook, whose SEC record away from home is 5-1, tying Auburn for the best road record over the same span.
UF's only road SEC loss in the past two seasons was the 17-14 upset pulled off by Ole Miss in Oxford last season.
Given that the Gators have already lost three SEC games at home under Zook, UF is playing better on the road than it is at home in this new era.
"Maybe we're a little more focused on the trip when we know we're playing a good opponent," Degory said. "At home, sometimes we get a little distracted. Going on the road works out sometimes.
"Driving into LSU, people were throwing cups at us and giving us the finger. It just gets you motivated in your own way. It works to my advantage. I like going on the road. I like being the hated guy. I feed off that."
The rest of the Gators apparently do, too.
The win at LSU last week clearly was the Gators' best performance of the season. Last season, the win in Knoxville probably was UF's best effort in an SEC game, with the Georgia victory following a close second.
"Obviously, you like to play at home, but our guys have been fortunate to go on the road and play hard, play well and play smart," Zook said. "For whatever reason, we've won some big games on the road.
"Our guys are looking forward to playing at Arkansas."
This current three-game swing away from The Swamp actually may have come along at a good time. After losing to Ole Miss at home two weeks ago - UF's second SEC loss in The Swamp this season - getting away may have taken some of the pressure off the Gators and their much-criticized coaching staff.
Instead of hearing boos last Saturday, the Gators heard the sweet sound of silence - always a great sign on the road.
"We like to try and take the crowd out of it," senior defensive end Darrell Lee said. "We like to sit them down and be quiet. That's a big thing. We like silence in the crowd.
"Last week was real nice. (The LSU crowd) came out and was real loud. By the end of the game there was almost complete silence. That was a good feeling."
You can reach Robbie Andreu by e-mail at andreur@gvillesun.com or by calling (352) 374-5022.

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