Zook answers some questions, others will have to wait for UM


Published: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 1:09 a.m.

We all had questions. We had them all week. We had them on Saturday. Many of them were answered. Some will have to wait a week.

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Florida head coach Ron Zook shouts from the sideline Saturday.

JOHN MORAN/The Gainesville Sun

Because, let's face it, this was not a very good team Florida hammered in its opening game. Alabama-Birmingham looked disorganized at times, confused at others. The Blazers are still trying to figure out how Florida's only proven receiver got so open so often.

But the game wasn't about the opponent. It was about the new Gators.

The new Gators looked a lot like the old Gators.

And a record opening day crowd showed up to watch.

"They wanted to see what's going to happen," Ron Zook said.

By the end of the first quarter, Florida already had five plays of 50 yards or more. By the half, Grossman already had his 300-yard passing game.

Questions?

What were formerly opinions are now educated. We know that Florida can still throw the ball, will still go deep. We know that the preseason Rex Grossman hype was deserved, that Taylor Jacobs is a bonafide No. 1 receiver, that the promises of a better running game passed the first test.

It wasn't perfect, but openers never are.

A missed extra point, a Grossman interception, a dropped touchdown pass, a couple of shanked punts. There were mistakes, but for the most part this was an efficient, well-coached football team.

The question about throwing deep was answered on the first play. And as the game progressed, the questions turned to single-game offensive records.

It looked as if Jacobs might break Carlos Alvarez's 33-year old record for receiving yards in a game ... by halftime. If not for a penalty on a 55-yarder, he'd have done it in the third quarter. Instead, he had to wait until the fourth.

Earnest Graham set his career high for rushing yards by the middle of the third quarter.

If there are still questions, they are about a three-point third quarter and the kicking game. And what it all means with Miami up next.

One of the many strange questions Zook fielded in his first week as a head coach concerned his method of entering the field. As it turned out, he came out first, leading his team through the tunnel, under the goalpost and out onto the crisp green grass. For Florida fans looking for signs, any signs, of what the Zook Era will be like, this was the first departure from the previous head ball coach.

"Obviously, it was a rush coming out of there," Zook said.

But before he hit the field, Zook paused, pounded his heart and pointed in the general direction of his father.

Pete Zook, 75, sat in a wheelchair in the southwest portal of the stadium near the door of the weight room, his family surrounding him. He wanted to see his son's first team take the field.

"It was big," Zook said, pausing to check his emotions when asked about his father. "I knew where he was. Originally, I wasn't going to run out in front of the team, but the fact that he was able to be here, I wanted to do that."

The most important question of this week didn't involve draw plays, deep passes or zone blitzes. What was really important was whether or not Pete would make the game, whether the cancer that has ravaged his body would allow him to make the trip north from Lake Worth.

The University Athletic Association took care of that, sending the UAA plane to pick him up on Friday. His wife, Dorothy, said it was the happiest she had seen him since the cancer was diagnosed in February.

He was on his way to his son's office, where he would watch the game on television, when the first Swamp-roar echoed through the night. Grossman hit Jacobs for 59 yards on the game's first play.

As the crowd's cheers enveloped him, Pete Zook wiped tears away from his tired eyes.

It turned out to be a special night, an emotional game for the Zook family. The forecast called for rain, hardly an ideal way to start an era, but the skies only clouded leaving the fans used to brutal heat remarkably comfortable for an opener. At halftime, the south sky contained a sliver of orange from the sunset.

God smiled on the Gators again Saturday night. We can only hope He smiles on Pete Zook.

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