Jacobs shows his worth

Florida quarterback Rex Grossman scrambles to avoid Florida State defensive tackle Mike Shaw in the second quarter at Doak Campbell Stadium. Grossman was reunited with Taylor Jacobs Saturday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 2:30 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE - During the time he was away, the Florida Gators almost forgot how much they missed him because they managed to dink and dunk the ball down the field and win three games, including an upset of No. 5 Georgia, without him.

On Saturday night they learned just how important Taylor Jacobs is to the passing offense - and how much he was missed - with his return to the starting lineup.

Jacobs, the senior from Tallahassee, clearly makes a difference. His speed and ability make him a huge threat and his mere presence creates space and opportunities in the secondary for Florida's other wide receivers.

Not surprisingly, quarterback Rex Grossman wasted no time in letting Florida State and everyone else know that his favorite receiver was back, throwing a quick pass in the right flat for a 4-yard gain on the game's first offensive play.

It was a minimal gain, but seemed to loosen up the Florida State's defense and create space for tailback Earnest Graham - who followed with consecutive runs of 6, 10 and 19 yards - and the other receivers. Following Graham's runs, Grossman hit O.J. Small with an 11-yard pass over the middle, then found Kelvin Kight open down the middle of the field for a 28-yard gain that set up a field goal to give the Gators the early lead.

When Jacobs was out with a sprained knee, Grossman rarely looked deep and the UF passing game consisted mostly of wide receiver screens and safe, short passes to the tight ends and running backs. The goal was to move the chains and keep the clock running, which the Gators became effective at doing.

With Jacobs back, the offense seemed to switch back into its aggressive, throw-the-ball-down-the-field personality. The Gators began to attack the entire field again.

And they couldn't have done that if Jacobs was simply making a token appearance Saturday night. There have been questions about Jacobs' injury and his improbable return during the regular season since he first sprained his knee on the first offensive series of the Georgia game.

Grossman predicted two weeks ago that Jacobs wouldn't return and probably shouldn't because in doing so he might be jeopardizing what appears to be a promising NFL career.

But Jacobs never gave up on getting back for this game. He was motivated to be on the field because this was going to be his last opportunity to play in his hometown, where he played his high school career only a short drive from the FSU campus.

He was cleared to practice at full speed on Monday, and by Thursday it was obvious he was going to be 100 percent - at least in terms of speed and cutting ability - for his final regular-season game.

Despite the injury and the time off, Jacobs did all the things he'd done so well earlier in the season. He got open, made catches and forced FSU's secondary to focus on him, which gave the other receivers a chance to get involved.

He caught four passes for 53 yards in the first half and seemed to give the offense a huge lift early.

Unfortunately for UF, Jacobs was taken out of the game by his own team's mistakes - by dumb penalties that gave UF horrible field position most of the second quarter and one dumb turnover, a ball bouncing off tight end Aaron Walker's hands and into the arms of FSU linebacker Kendyll Pope, who returned it 13 yards to a touchdown to put the game away early in the third quarter.

What could have been a great return for Jacobs turned into a big disappointment for him and the Gators.

You can reach Robbie Andreu by e-mail at andreur@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5022.

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