You dread bringing it up. You know he must have heard about it
seven billion times, and you know he can't enjoy talking about
the most devastating loss in school history. But you can't
really discuss the Gators' 1996 season without talking about how
the '95 season ended. "So, er, Lawrence, about the Fiesta
"I think I learned a lot from that game," safety Lawrence Wright
says of Florida's 62-24 loss to Nebraska. "I've never been a
part of a game like that, where we played so poorly as a whole
No Gator had ever been a part of a game like that. Florida was
12-0 going into the game; if the Gators had won, they would have
been national champions for the first time. "I think about it
often, what we could have done better, differently in that
game," says Wright. "It makes me hungry and keeps the team
focused on the task at hand."
Make no mistake: The task at hand is to win the national
title--another SEC crown (the fifth in six years) would not be
enough. And considering that the Gators' Fun 'n' Gun offense
averaged an SEC-record 534.4 yards per game last year while
their multiple 40 defense allowed Nebraska to roll up 629 yards,
how do you suppose Florida plans to accomplish that task?
Last season's defensive coordinator, Bob Pruett, left to become
the coach at Marshall. The new man in Gainesville, Bob Stoops,
fresh from overseeing Kansas State's vaunted defense, has
installed a 4-3 scheme that is, according to Wright, "more
aggressive." Led by Wright, the Gators' secondary will be among
the best in the country. Wright and another senior, cornerback
Anthone Lott, were All-SEC picks last season.
On offense Florida may be even better than last season--which is
saying a lot in light of the Gators' SEC-record
44.5-points-per-game scoring average in '95. Terry Jackson, Fred
Taylor and Elijah Williams all return and will again rotate at
tailback once Taylor returns from a four-game suspension. And
senior quarterback Danny Wuerffel, whose 178.4 passing
efficiency rating last fall was the best in NCAA history, has
already proved adept at directing the Florida attack.
A favorite of Florida fans, Wuerffel inspired cheers from
Gainesvillians during the off-season, too--simply by running
down University Avenue. Of course, he was carrying the Olympic
torch at the time. Says the modest Wuerffel in explaining his
torch-bearing technique, "Just tried to keep the feet going."
When it came time to hand off the torch, Wuerffel's target was
wideout Chris Doering. It was the last time Wuerffel would pass
anything to Doering, his leading receiver last year and one of
only three offensive starters from the '95 team not returning
Even without Doering, who was drafted by the Jacksonville
Jaguars, the Gators have many talented receivers, with juniors
Ike Hilliard (1,008 yards receiving in '95) and Reidel Anthony
(15.3 yards per catch) leading the ranks. Hilliard, for one,
thinks this year's team will be just as good as last year's,
which, despite the Fiesta Bowl loss, finished No. 2 in the
nation. "I know people have lost a lot of respect for us, but
we're not worried about that," says Hilliard. "We're going to
put up the same kinds of numbers we did last season."
But numbers only got the Gators to No. 2. To become national
champs, they will have to show that they have learned from the
Fiesta Bowl loss. "Maybe getting clobbered by Nebraska helped us
come down to earth," says coach Steve Spurrier. "We didn't have
an off-season of patting each other on the back."
This off-season other people may be doing that for them.