It won’t save his job, but a 3-0 record against Georgia would look good on Ron Zook’s resume when he tries to land his next one.
Days after the school fired him, Zook tries to help Florida beat its rival for the seventh straight time as the Gators and No. 10 Bulldogs meet Saturday at Jacksonville’s Alltel Stadium.
After enduring criticism that started almost the day he was surprisingly hired to replace Steve Spurrier in 2002, Zook was fired Monday with a 20-13 record. He will coach through the remainder of the season, allowing Florida to take its time in searching for his replacement.
That gives Zook one more chance to add to one of the only highlights of his tenure, his record against Georgia (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference). The Gators (4-3, 2-3) won 20-13 in 2002 and 16-13 last year, extending their winning streak in the series to six games.
But even his two victories over one of Florida’s biggest rivals couldn’t save Zook from the criticism he got for suffering too many losses. The final straw was perhaps the most embarrassing defeat of his tenure, Saturday’s 38-31 shocker against a Mississippi State team that had been winless in the SEC and earlier this season lost at home to Division I-AA Maine.
“In the final analysis, it was apparent to me that something’s not working here,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “I know that’s kind of nebulous, but it’s the truth. It’s hard to put a finger on it exactly, but it certainly just didn’t appear to be working as we all envisioned.”
While the record against Georgia is a notable achievement for Zook, a win over Florida is one of the few things missing from the record of David Greene and the Georgia senior class. While compiling a 38-9 record, that class has defeated every SEC team it has played at least once—except the Gators.
Greene has started every one of those 38 victories. He needs one more to tie another former SEC star, Tennessee’s Peyton Manning, for the most wins by a Division I-A starting quarterback.
Greene threw for a career-high 382 yards and two touchdowns as Georgia beat Arkansas 20-14 on Saturday. The Bulldogs had 513 yards of offense, but lost two fumbles, committed nine penalties for 80 yards and missed two field goals, allowing the game to stay close.
The Georgia offense will try to keep things rolling against a Florida defense that yielded season highs last week in points, rushing yards (251), yards per rush (5.3), yards per play (5.8) and rushing touchdowns (three).
The Bulldogs expect the Gators to bounce back, knowing Florida will probably play with plenty of emotion to get a victory for Zook.
“My guess is their players will be very adamant on playing hard for not only coach Zook, but their entire coaching staff,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “But we’ve got enough things to worry about over here. Hopefully, I can get our guys to match that kind of intensity.”
Georgia, tied with Tennessee for the SEC East lead, has not defeated Florida since 1997. The Gators, who have won 13 of the last 14 meetings, can equal the longest winning streak in the series. They won seven straight from 1990-96, while the Bulldogs won every meeting between 1941-48.