Ball State's tailback Marcus Merriweather is tackled by a host of Florida
Thaddeus Bullard and Todd Johnson
during the first quarter in Gainesville, Fla. on Sept. 2.
By EDDIE PELLS
AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)(Sept. 2) - The boos came down harder than the rain Saturday night at The Swamp.
No. 9 Florida deserved every bit of it, plodding through a waterlogged 40-19 victory over Ball State, a team that lost its 18th straight game and was expected to
roll over for the not-so-mighty Gators.
The team from David Letterman's alma mater never gave up, and Gators coach Steve Spurrier found a top-10 list's worth of reasons to yank the visor off his head,
yell at his quarterback and pace the sidelines, hands folded tightly across his chest.
The Gators snapped their own three-game losing streak. But nobody expected them to sweat through this one.
"We didn't play that super," Spurrier said. "We won't be too full of ourselves after this one. We've got a lot of improving to do."
The low points were too numerous to list completely, although a few stuck out.
One came midway through the third quarter, when Spurrier got tired of watching his offense bumble and called for a punt on third-and-26.
"It was like third-and-50," Spurrier said. "We were just hoping to not get it blocked."
On the next drive, Ball State scored on a 49-yard pass from Talmadge Hill to Corey Parchman. Then, the Cardinals blocked their second punt of the game and
took over at Florida's 13, trailing 33-19.
That's when the boos came flying from every corner of The Swamp, an intimidating, 85,000-seat stadium that Ball State had helped turn quiet as a library.
"I don't think I've ever been booed by my own fans," Gators senior tailback Bo Carroll said. "It wasn't exactly the outcome we wanted. The fans weren't thrilled
either. Maybe everyone gets a little spoiled. They're used to us throwing up 60."
And they get upset when teams from the Mid-American Conference push their team deep into the fourth quarter.
Florida's Tron LaFavor recovered a fumble two plays after the blocked punt to stop the insanity, then Jesse Palmer hit Carroll on the sideline for a 75-yard scoring
play that put the Gators ahead by three touchdowns.
The game was secure, but there was little reason to celebrate.
Palmer threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns, but completed only 21 of 46 passes. The defense gave up a couple big chunks of yardage and showed few
signs of becoming the dominant force everyone expected.
The makeshift offensive line surrendered nine points - a touchdown on Cornelius Bowick's sack and fumble recovery and a safety when Evan Triggs burst in to
tackle Robert Gillespie (17 carries, 112 yards) for a 6-yard loss.
"There are only two things you can do - accept it or just roll over," said Ball State tight end Jason Teeters, who blocked one of the punts. "When you come out
on that field, you've got 90,000 people that don't care anything about you and just want Florida to win. It gives you a rush."
The defensive touchdown and safety were just a few of the highlights for Ball State, which earned $350,000 for coming to Gainesville and taking on the Gators,
who were favored by 45.
The Cardinals bounced back nicely from Florida's lightning-quick opening, in which Jeff Chandler recovered his own onside kick, then watched Palmer drive the
team to a touchdown in the first 70 seconds.
"We just wanted to let everyone know we were capable of doing it," Spurrier said of the onside kick.
The coach recounted the last time his team scored so quickly - in his first game as head coach of the Gators, a 50-7 victory over Oklahoma State in 1990.
But the days of easy laughers in September appear over for Spurrier. Last year, the Gators were pushed deep into the third quarter before beating Western
Michigan 55-26 in the opener.
This time, Florida led 26-10 at halftime - not nearly comfortable enough to empty the bench.
In fact, redshirt freshman Rex Grossman didn't replace Palmer until 2:34 remained, and Spurrier realized there was nothing else his team could do to lose the game.
Freshman Brock Berlin will have to wait at least another week for playing time.
"We were just trying to win the game, that's all we were trying to do," Spurrier said. "We finally had a chance to play Rex. I don't know what Brock would have
In addition to the poor play, the Gators suffered a key injury. Starting middle linebacker Andra Davis left in the second quarter with a sprained left knee, an injury
that Spurrier said will require surgery.
Davis' backup, Travis Carroll, served the first of a three-game suspension for unspecified rules violations.