Take a deep breath... this won't be easy


Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 31, 2005 at 11:05 p.m.
Finally, the breathers.
Just don't breathe too deeply.
After the trips to Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge and Jacksonville, after a four-game stretch that included two of the toughest environments you could ever want to play in and enough criticism and second-guessing to make you think Urban Meyer had nominated a Supreme Court justice, Florida gets the two sure-thing wins the next two weeks.
After all, the last time the Gators lost to Vanderbilt at home was 19 years before the 41-year-old Meyer was born. The last time Florida lost to South Carolina at all was before the Gamecocks joined the conference ... the Atlantic Coast Conference.
And since the SEC went to divisional play and expanded to 12 teams, Florida is 26-0 against the Commodores and Gamecocks. Even Ron Zook went 6-0.
So after the incredible intensity of October comes the tranquility of November (at least until the end of the month when you get your in-laws and Florida State in town the same week).
Time to get re-acquainted with your family and build that bookshelf you started on the morning of the first game but had to stop because you couldn't concentrate. My, how the kids have grown while you were hunkered down with scouting reports and checking out the signs behind Lee Corso's head.
But this is the week when you can relax. I mean, Vandy and South Carolina make it interesting sometimes. Remember the Commodores driving to tie the score late in the game in 1999? Of course, they didn't make it. South Carolina jumped out in front 17-0 in 1993. Florida won by 11.
Florida always wins those games.
Now you've been reading this and cringing, wanting me to shut my pie hole in the worst way. Because you know three things:
1. This isn't a typical Vandy team.
2. South Carolina never used to beat Tennessee either, but that was before the Gamecocks got a real ball coach.
3. There are no breathers when you've been averaging 14.5 points over your last four games.
You already know why next week isn't a breather. In fact, you'll likely be holding your breath every time South Carolina gets the ball.
But even this week is not your usual why-isn't-this-homecoming? I know, I know. The Commodores have returned to form after stunning everybody by winning their first four games. Then came a crushing defeat and a major blow to their chances at bowl eligibility when they lost to Middle Tennessee.
In their last three games, Vandy has given up 34, 34 and 35 points. You're starting to breathe again.
Except that you wonder if Florida could score 34 points against a heavy rain.
As well as the offense played early against Georgia, it still managed only two touchdowns. Two touchdowns probably won't cut it against Vanderbilt and definitely won't result in a breather.
Despite the four-game losing streak, Bobby Johnson's team has one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC in Jay Cutler. He leads the league in passing. His team is third in the SEC in red-zone scoring. He has better numbers than D.J. Shockley, whose absence was a big part of Florida's win over Georgia. Two of the top four receivers in the conference play for Vanderbilt.
"We're not too discouraged," Johnson said Monday. "We've been in some games we probably could have won if we had some more confidence."
Plus, Vanderbilt doesn't make mistakes. Here's a stat you never hear, which is why I'm giving it to you: Vanderbilt by far leads the SEC in penalty differential. That's the difference between penalty yards you suffer vs. penalty yards the other team self-inflicts. Vandy is at plus-43 yards per game (Florida is minus-26.8).
Vandy also has had the bye week to get healthy and to take a long look at UF.
And then there is this - the Commodores looked like a bowl lock four games into the season. To make it now they have to win two of the last three against the Gators, Kentucky and Tennessee. Think there is a hunger factor?
"It'd be refreshing if we make it," Johnson said. "We feel like this is a golden opportunity. We hope we can take advantage of it. It'd be nice to win all three of these to take any doubt out of it. We're capable of doing it."
Breathe in. Breathe out.
There are no breathers.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear The Pat Dooley Show each weekday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on The Star 99.5-FM.

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