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Another year, another loss to AU
After falling at home to Tigers, Florida hoping to regroup again

By Mark Long
Associated Press Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Gators used last year’s loss against Auburn as motivation that helped propel them to the national championship.

Now, they will try to do it again.

This time, though, the Gators won’t have the same senior-laden team to lead the way.

Florida’s young team was exposed in a 20-17 loss to the Tigers on Saturday night. The offensive line opened few holes in the running game and gave Tim Tebow little time to throw, and the defense allowed too many big plays.

The Gators also made four huge mistakes on special teams that proved to be the difference.

“We just kind of fell apart,” right tackle Carlton Medder said.

The ninth-ranked Gators (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference), who fell five spots in the latest Associated Press college football poll, will try to regroup this week as they prepare for what had been a much-hyped matchup at top-ranked LSU.

“The phrase I was taught as a young person is the soul of a man is exposed when you get hit in the face,” coach Urban Meyer said Sunday. “I don’t want to over-dramatize a loss in football with some of the major issues in life.

“But the soul of a man isn’t exposed when you pick up a crystal ball and put on a championship ring. A lot of people can do that. It’s when you have to rebound from some adversity.”

Florida did that last season after losing 27-17 at Auburn. Meyer played an audio clip from 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, who described how the Gators relied on their senior leaders to rebound from a late-season loss to Florida State and win it all.

Meyer would like that to happen again this season.

But that won’t be easy, especially with 49 freshmen or sophomores playing.

“The negative right now is we probably have 10 seniors,” Meyer said. “How many of which are actually playing a lot? ... How are we going to respond? Obviously, I don’t have that answer. I feel like there’s a lot of character on this team and some good people.”

The Gators showed some character Saturday, rebounding from a 14-0 halftime deficit and tying the game at 17 with 7:36 remaining. They even looked like they might pull off a comeback, but the offense stalled on its final drive. Percy Harvin lost 6 yards on first down, trying to turn a short loss into a big gain.

Kestahn Moore then got stopped for no gain on an option play with Tebow. Facing third-and-16, Tebow got pressured and threw incomplete.

There were numerous questions about offensive coordinator Dan Mullen’s play-calling, especially since Tebow ran 16 times — often right up the middle. There were even more eyebrows raised when it was learned that Mullen had an emergency appendectomy late Friday night.

Mullen was having side pains at dinner Friday and then had blood tests. Meyer said he learned about 11:30 p.m. that Mullen needed surgery.

Mullen missed the team’s first walkthrough but arrived at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in time for the game.

“He is a tough guy,” Meyer said. “He did everything he possibly could. That didn’t affect the game. He still called a fine game. We still could have done things better.”

Forced to punt to Auburn with about 4 minutes to play, Chas Henry shanked one 25 yards — the last of the three special teams miscues.

The other three were:

  • Florida was flagged for running into the punter on Auburn’s opening possession, which turned good field position into a first down, and the Tigers eventually scored a touchdown on the drive.

  • The Gators had a 34-yard field goal attempt blocked in the second quarter.

  • They faked a punt and picked up the first down late in the third, but were flagged for illegal formation and were forced to kick it away.

    Those plays prevented Florida from sustaining momentum throughout the game.

    “It hurts a lot,” Medder said. “It feels like you’re getting stabbed.”

    The final blow came after the shanked punt. That put Auburn into position for the game-winning field goal.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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