For the third straight season, Florida has rebounded from a slow start.
The 20th-ranked Gators, coming off a dominating win, look to continue their pattern of late-season success under Ron Zook as they visit Mississippi State in a Southeastern Conference matchup Saturday.
Florida (4-2, 2-2 SEC) started 4-3 in 2002 and 3-3 last season. They rallied both seasons before closing with losses to Florida State in the Outback Bowl, finishing 8-5.
The Gators hope they’re following a similar path this season. They started the season 3-2 but are coming off a 52-16 win over Middle Tennessee on Saturday.
“It’s important we go there and take care of what we can do, and I think our guys have realized that,” Zook said. “They’ve shown me this past week that they can zero in on what they have to do and that’s a good feeling. It’s going to be important we do the same thing this week and then go to Mississippi State and take care of business.”
The Gators wanted to play well—and needed to. Not only have they lost two early games for the third consecutive season under Zook, they also have all but been eliminated from the SEC Eastern Division race. Making matters worse after last week’s loss, news leaked that Zook angrily confronted members of a fraternity last month after a fight between them and three of his players.
The distraction added to an already tense week.
“I’m glad it’s over with and we can get on down the road,” Zook said.
Chris Leak threw three touchdown passes and DeShawn Wynn scored three times Saturday to help Florida rebounded from a home loss to then-No. 24 LSU on Oct. 9.
Leak, who was 15-of-33 for a season-low 142 yards in a 24-21 loss to the Tigers, completed 17 of 22 passes for 316 yards against the Blue Raiders. He was rarely pressured, giving him plenty of time to find open receivers. He had TD passes to O.J. Small, Andre Caldwell and Chad Jackson before sitting out the fourth quarter.
Mississippi State (1-5, 0-3) comes off a bye week, which followed a 27-13 loss to UAB on Oct. 9.
Jerious Norwood ran for a career-high 201 yards on 24 carries for the Bulldogs, who have lost five straight since winning Sylvester Croom’s coaching debut five weeks ago and are another defeat from being eliminated from bowl contention.
Unless Mississippi State closes the season with five straight wins—a virtual impossibility for a team that lost to Division I-AA Maine three weeks ago—its season will end two days after Thanksgiving in the Egg Bowl at Mississippi.
“We have to play perfect right now,” Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom said. “We have to play flawless because we have hit a lot of adversity. Things go against us. We are not getting breaks right now. If adversity builds character, we are going to have a whole heck of a lot of character in this program because everything seems to be going against us right now.”
Florida leads the all-time series 31-17-2.