Dooley Noted: Starkville '04 was pivotal


Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 4:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 4:57 p.m.

Florida returns Saturday to a place that has seen a lot of Gator misery. But is also the site of one of the most important days in the history of Florida football.

In 2004, Florida went to Starkville needing a win badly. Mississippi State was the league's bottom feeder at the time, last in the SEC in just about every meaningful category except cowbells in the stands.

But Ron Zook's team perhaps fatigued from the prospect of no open date thanks to a hurricane that postponed the opener was beaten by the Bulldogs. Many of us saw this as the last straw of the Ron Zook Era and by Monday the beleaguered coach had been told he was finished.

Now just think what would have happened had the Zooker managed to pull out the win. And it's not like it couldn't have happened, as Florida had the ball on the Mississippi State 44 driving for the winning score after trailing for most of the game.

But after a false start penalty. Chris Leak threw an interception to Jeramie Johnson and the Bulldogs drove to win it on Jerious Norwood's 37-yard run with 26 seconds to play.

It was a devastating loss for Zook, who had lost twice that year in nail-biters, one at Tennessee of which was influenced by two blown calls by SEC officials (now there's a shocker).

Had Zook's team won the game I have no doubt it would have won the following week against Georgia. The Gators almost pulled that game out anyway despite the turmoil of the week. While Zook eventually might not have survived to have another season, UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley would not have had the head start on securing Urban Meyer as the next UF coach.

And if Zook had survived, we all know Meyer would be coaching at Notre Dame.

Instead, he's at Florida with two national title rings and the No. 1 BCS ranking this year.

So let the cowbells ring, Bulldogs fans. You did the Gator Nation a huge favor.

And I can't help but wonder where Dan Mullen would be now if Florida had won that game. Or Charlie Weis. Or Phillip Fulmer had there not been a Meyer to lose to four straight times. Or who would be the coach at Florida today? Might be Bobby Petrino, who was high on Foley's list. So then who would be the current coach at Arkansas?

It's funny how one game can change so many lives.

DAWG FAN: Urban Meyer revealed on Wednesday's SEC conference call that he was a big fan of a certain SEC team when he was in high school.

Not Florida. Georgia.

"I was a big Herschel Walker fan," Meyer said. "A nut. I was a big Georgia Bulldog fan because of Herschel Walker growing up."

His quarterback, Tim Tebow, is one shy of Walker's all-time SEC record for rushing touchdowns. Walker only played three seasons but for a quarterback to break that mark is nothing short of amazing.

RUSH RIGHT IN: So is the SEC reverting to form?

Steve Spurrier came into the league and changed the way offenses moved the ball. A league that had been known for the running game and defense went wide open.

But the trend seems to be coming back around the conference. These things tend to run in cycles.

Last year, only two running backs Knowshon Moreno and Michael Smith averaged more than 100 yards rushing. This year, there are four.

Last year, Percy Harvin was seventh in the league in rushing at 55 yards a game. This year, he wouldn't be close to the top 10.

Last year, there were four teams that averaged more than 150 yards rushing per game. This year, there are eight.

Maybe it's the below-par quarterback play. Maybe it's coaches getting more conservative. Maybe we just have a glut of good running backs in this league. Maybe the defenses are playing the pass so much better.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues through the rest of the season.

OFFENSIVE ISSUES: One more thing about the column I wrote for Tuesday's paper about Florida's offense.

I'm not saying there aren't issues with this offense. I saw them coming before the season.

What I'm saying is that I'm not sure how good this offense can be.

All that matters is winning and losing. Period. How you win and by how much are irrelevant. I think a little of the displeasure (and it is a vocal minority) is because some of you have yet to heed my advice and are still worried about Alabama. I repeat, Alabama is not on Florida's schedule.

Let's just see how it all plays out.

MY LEAGUE: I watched ESPN's documentary about the USFL on Tuesday night and expected to be yelling at the screen, "That's not the way it happened."

Instead, I kept saying to myself, "That's exactly the way it happened."

Yes, all of the owners except the late John Bassett went along with Donald Trump because they were foolish enough to think he'd make them rich. Or richer in some cases. Trump used them to try to get into the NFL.

My two years covering that league were two of the best years of my life, and watching that film really brought back a lot of memories. One of them was sitting in the Atlanta Falcons' camp the day the league folded and asking Chris Mortensen (now of ESPN) how many players he thought would play in the NFL.

"Just a handful," he said.

The answer ended up being 187. There was some real talent in the USFL. Unfortunately, very little of it was in the league meetings.

STRAIGHT TALK: Two things I need to get off my chest because my blood pressure is rising ...

1. Arkansas did not get robbed. Some people never let facts get in the way of a good story or message board post. Sure, it was a terrible call on the personal foul penalty against Malcolm Sheppard. But Florida would still have had the ball with a second-and-9 at the Arkansas 20. That's hardly robbery.

2. I have no problem with a voter putting Alabama over Florida. But when I hear someone say they voted for Alabama because it handled Arkansas easier than Florida did, I can't help but wonder when did Arkansas became the gold standard for college football? Couldn't you just as easily look at the Kentucky game where Florida dominated and Alabama gave up more first downs than it gained? The answer is neither. Every game is its own game.

PAT-POURRI: South Carolina will wear camouflage uniforms to promote the Wounded Warrior program when the Gamecocks play Florida in Columbia. ... And Florida's soccer team will be wearing pink uniforms for Cancer Awareness on Friday night against LSU. UF coach Becky Burleigh's mom has fought cancer three times, and senior Lauren Hyde's mom died of breast cancer when she was a senior in high school. ... If you want to get Billy Donovan going, ask him about his trip to South Africa where he was in the water with great white sharks. "I'd do it again. I will do it again," he said. "They were so unbelievably big. They took us right over the spot where one of them was attacking a seal." Getting in the cage, Donovan said, "was a concern." I'll take his word for it. ... Who would have said before this season that Mark Ingram would be Alabama's first-ever Heisman Trophy winner? ... Be safe.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com and follow at http://Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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