Special teams a disaster

Matt Leach is dejected after missing a 41-yard field goal in the second quarter of the Florida Gator's Peach Bowl game against the Miami Hurricanes.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 12:17 a.m.
The Florida Gators wanted a piece of Brock Berlin on Friday night, and it had nothing to do with the former UF quarterback's throat-slashing gesture and mocking Gator chomp cheer in the Orange Bowl last season.
They wanted a piece because the best way to mess up Miami's offense is to pressure Berlin and put him on his back. Over his UM career, Berlin's biggest struggles have come against the teams that have managed to get in his face and knock him out of his rhythm.
When Berlin has time, he's usually efficient and there's a good chance he'll get on a roll, just like he did in the second half of last year's game, when he rallied the 'Canes from a 23-point deficit.
When he's pressured, the UM offense usually stalls.
So, the Gators wanted to be sure to get after Berlin, and that's exactly what they did from the very start. They didn't sack him, but they were around him and in his face the entire first half, and the Hurricanes were one giant offensive dud. Charlie Strong's aggressive defense held UM to four first downs and a mere 50 total yards on 22 plays.
Berlin, clearly not feeling comfortable under the steady heat, completed only five passes in 12 attempts for 24 yards.
UF's defense executed its game plan to near perfection - but the Gators still found themselves staring at a 17-3 deficit heading into the second half.
That's because the Florida special teams had a monumental meltdown that offset all the good things the defense accomplished.
Which begs this question: When Ron Zook was told he would not have the opportunity to coach the Gators in the Peach Bowl, did Strong, the interim head coach, forget to assign special teams duty to someone else on the staff?
UF was absolutely lost. It started early in the game, when Thomas Carroll blocked Matt Leach's 32-yard field goal attempt and speedy defensive back/special teams star Devin Hester scooped up the bouncing ball and raced 78 yards for a touchdown.
The Gators had talked all week about how they were going to try to avoid giving up something big to Hester by not kicking to the dangerous return man. Hester found a way to beat UF with a different kind of return.
Later in the half, Hester was on the loose again, returning an interception 28 yards to set up a UM field goal.
A few minutes later, the special teams suffered another complete breakdown when Roscoe Parrish caught Eric Wilbur's line drive punt and gutted the UF return team, running untouched for 72 yards and a touchdown to give the 'Canes a comfortable 17-3 lead.
And the Florida special teams weren't quite yet done with their first-half follies.
Trying to get back in the game in the closing seconds of the half, the Gators blew an opportunity when Leach's badly hooked a 39-yard field goal attempt wide left.
In Zook's first two seasons at Florida, the special teams had faltered on numerous other occasions. But this season, under his direction, the special teams had become solid and reliable, a team strength.
Without him Friday night, the Gators were lost.
The former ball coach had to be cringing watching this disaster unfold on television.
You can reach Robbie Andreu by calling 374-5022 or by e-mail at andreur@gvillesun.com.

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