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A familiar scenario for Zook

10/24/2004 - Florida Gators

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ron Zook has taken the Florida Gators
to a new low -- for the third straight season.

Not only was Mississippi State the worst team in the conference,
it was one of the worst teams in the country. And the Bulldogs
upset the once-mighty Gators 38-31 on Saturday.

It was Florida's 13th loss in three seasons under Zook and could
ultimately lead to his dismissal. Zook may have to win the rest of
his games -- including ones against No. 10 Georgia and at No. 5
Florida State -- to have a chance of returning for a fourth season.

"There's nothing I can do about that," Zook said Sunday. "I
just have to worry about this next game right now. That's all I
have any control over."

Zook has been in this situation before. The Gators (4-3) lost
three early games each of the last two years before putting
together winning streaks that helped them avoid losing seasons.

But how many chances can athletic director Jeremy Foley afford
to give Zook, especially after the coach has embarrassed the
program on and off the field?

On the field, the Gators have had several late collapses --
including against Tennessee and LSU this season. They have lost to
three unranked teams, all from Mississippi. And they have fallen
out of The Associated Press Top 25 poll for the third straight
year.

Off the field, Zook got into a heated confrontation with several
members of a fraternity last month while defending his players --
behavior Foley called unacceptable and said would factor into a
decision on Zook's future.

Foley did not immediately return phone messages left Sunday on
his cell phone and at home, but he has said he would reevaluate
Zook's performance at the end of the season.

Zook went 8-5 in his first two years at Florida. The Gators
started 4-3 in 2002 before reeling off four straight victories.
They opened 3-3 in 2003 -- sparking speculation he would be fired --
but then won five in a row.

After the streaks, they lost to Florida State to end both
seasons and looked unprepared at times in the bowl games --
something that rarely happened under Steve Spurrier.

They seemed even less ready for Mississippi State.

"I wish I had an answer," Zook said. "If I had an answer for
you I probably wouldn't be in coaching. As we looked at this tape,
those guys tried. Did we make some mistakes? Absolutely. Did we do
some things that we normally don't do? A few times. But overall I
can't fault the effort.

"I think we prepared hard. I thought going into the game we
were ready. There was no indication that we weren't ready for this
football team."

The Bulldogs -- who lost to Division I-AA Maine last month and
had been outscored 125-27 in Southeastern Conference play this
season -- put together a 71-yard touchdown drive off the opening
kickoff. The Gators never recovered.

Jerious Norwood's 37-run with 32 seconds to play won it for
Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, last in the conference in total
offense, finished with 251 yards rushing.

Zook said he had trouble eating and sleeping after losing to LSU
two weeks ago, but he refused to compare this one to that.

"I don't like to rank losses," Zook said. "That's not
something you want to get into a habit of doing. They all hurt. A
loss is a loss. Our players hurt. It's supposed to hurt. When
you've invested something in it like these players and these
coaches have, it's supposed to hurt. I'm no different than anyone
else."