Gators, patsies at home, are kings of the road

Updated: October 15, 2003, 7:10 PM ET

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe Florida's three-game road trip is the best thing that could have happened for a struggling team.

Coach Ron Zook's 3-3 home record against Southeastern Conference opponents rankles Florida fans, but he fares much better away from Gainesville against ranked teams.

The Gators (4-3, 2-2 in the SEC) are 3-1 on the road against top 10 opponents the past two years, winning at No. 4 Tennessee 30-13 and beating No. 5 Georgia 20-13 in 2002, losing at Miami 38-33 this September and surprising LSU 19-7 last Saturday. If Florida had not blown a 33-10 second-half lead to Miami, Zook's road record against top 10 teams would be perfect.

In contrast, Steve Spurrier was 1-4 in his first five away games against top 10 opponents. He did not pick up his third top-10 road scalp until his seventh season, when UF upended Tennessee 35-29 in 1996. Discount neutral-site games, and Spurrier was 3-8-1 in the home stadium of top 10 opponents. Zook is 2-1.

If No. 11 Arkansas were one spot higher, he could have matched Spurriers 12-year win total this Saturday, midway through his second season. Then again, he already has equaled Spurriers career total for SEC home losses at three.

"We have a lot of focus while we are on the road," sophomore center Mike Degory said. "Sometimes when you play at home, you can get distracted. We have been in the spoiler role a few times, and this team strives on that."

To extend Zook's road success, Florida will have to win two in a row for the first time this season. The Gators have alternated wins and losses through seven games.

"Obviously you want to get momentum and all those things," Zook said. "We've got to go to Arkansas and play the best that we can play and win."

After facing Arkansas, Florida has a week off before facing No. 4 Georgia in Jacksonville.

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Crowder Getting Louder: Florida freshman linebacker Channing Crowder made a huge impact against LSU, registering seven tackles 11 days after he had arthroscopic knee surgery to remove cartilage.

With Crowder, the Gators limited LSU to 56 yards on 24 carries. Without Crowder a week earlier against Ole Miss, the Gators gave up 223 yards on 36 carries.

Crowder was supposed to miss three-to-four games, but he sat out only one. A native of Atlanta, he said his Georgia heritage sped up his recovery.

"We are a special breed up there," he said. "I heal faster than everybody else." His gutsy performance at Tiger Stadium appears to have affected his vocal cords, too. Arkansas running back Cedric Cobbs, the Southeastern Conference rushing leader with 640 yards, doesn't scare him.

"He does what everybody else does, take the ball from the quarterback and run," Crowder said. "It's nothing amazing. I'm not scared of any man until they have to crank him up with a key in the morning."

Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones averages 7.3 yards a carry, including a 60-yard run in an upset of Texas. He also had a 78-yard touchdown scamper negated by a holding penalty against Auburn.

"If he wants to take off running, that's another opportunity to knock him out, and he's the quarterback," Crowder said. "They're all soft, so we need to get a chance to hit him."

Freshman quarterback Chris Leak has garnered plenty of headlines as the offenses leader since being named the starter four games into the season. Crowder, who has played the exact same number of downs as Leak (321), already is the quarterback of the defense."

"For a guy to come in his freshman year and play the way he's been playing is incredible," senior defensive end Darrell Lee said. "You don't see that too often. He has leadership skills. You have to look up to somebody like that."

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Gator Bait: Florida is in the midst of three consecutive games on CBS -- the LSU game last week, Arkansas this Saturday and the Georgia game on Oct. 30. ... If Florida upsets Arkansas, it can gain a share of the SEC East lead by beating Georgia. If the Gators lose to the Razorbacks, look out below. No East division team has gone to the SEC Championship Game with three league losses. ... Starting offensive tackle Max Starks, who missed the LSU game with an abscessed tooth, is expected to play against Arkansas despite having two wisdom teeth removed Monday. ... Freshman defensive tackle Marcus Thomas practiced Tuesday four days after a freak injury forced him to miss the LSU game. He sprained his ankle last Friday when he fell down some steps at the team hotel as the Gators prepared to go to the team movie. ... Zook said senior running back Ran Carthon, who left the LSU game with a strained hamstring, likely would be ready for Arkansas. If he isn't, sophomore Ciatrick Fason will start. Fason passed DeShawn Wynn on the depth chart after running for 92 yards on seven carries and catching a 35-yard touchdown pass against LSU. ... After UF's loss to Ole Miss, the coaches gave every player a T-shirt with the word "TEAM" in blue writing on the front. The Gators credited improved unity for their win at LSU, and several players wore the T-shirts to interviews Tuesday. Zookism: "Just because it (the running game) is not working early, you don't abandon it. A lot of times because it's not working early means it's going to work later."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index