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Spurrier raises Cain over Shane

Sometimes, the critics are never satisfied.

There was familiarity to the way Shane Matthews threw the ball Saturday against LSU. His carriage in the pocket, the way he stepped up and threw fastballs, was mindful of the way he played much of last season, when you legally could say his name and the Heisman in the same sentence.

Yet, the critic shook his head as he mentioned Matthews' name, and there was disappointment in his voice.

Matthews had completed 25 of 37 passes for 285 yards. He had passed for two touchdowns, and he had set up two others. He set a University of Florida career record for touchdown passes. He threw to 10 receivers, all of them his own. He did not throw an interception, which was five fewer than in his last game. His team won.

The critic was not happy, however. Matthews had messed up again, he said. Another such example, he said, and Matthews would merit being pulled from the game.

When he said it, the critic did not smile.

Maybe you've heard of this critic. Guy by the name of Steve Spurrier, Florida coach.

Spurrier was irritated after Saturday's 28-21 victory over LSU. His irritation didn't stop with Matthews _ he would get around to the pass rush, the coverage, wide receiver Willie Jackson and his own coaching _ but it was the most notable.

Matthews' transgression, latest version, was an audible he called with third and 2 at the LSU 22 with less than six minutes to play. The Gators, leading 28-13, had a running play to Errict Rhett called, but Matthews saw that wide receiver Willie Jackson had single coverage to his left, and the defender was 12 yards off the ball.

So Matthews changed the play to a quick pass. (Florida was called for illegal motion on the play, and the drive ended in a missed field goal.)

Hang him, that's what I say.

I'm just kidding, of course, but Spurrier wasn't.

"If he does that again on third and 1 (actually, 2), he may just get jerked," Spurrier said.

"All of our quarterbacks have the freedom to audible, but you've got to use common sense sometime. You don't start audibling with a 15-point lead when you can put the game away. The defense they had, we had a good chance to make one (first down)."

Spurrier, it should be noted once again, was irked. His team won only when a furious LSU rally fell short on three passes into the end zone (one caught out of bounds) and a fumbled snap, and it managed to disappoint even while winning. "I feel a little bit like a loss," said Spurrier (who had felt losses to Tennessee and Mississippi State his last two times out, so he should know what it is like).

Still, the criticism came across as a trifle heavy-handed, particularly considering that the Gators have had Matthews' confidence up on blocks all week. So dedicated was Spurrier to repairing Matthews' battered psyche that Matthews had been sequestered from the media this week in an effort to allow him to get his act together after his five-interception performance against Mississippi State. (Fortunately, his offensive line was not in charge of protecting the quarantine.)

Only a few weeks ago, Matthews was one of the guys linked romantically with the Heisman Trophy. Now, it is anyone's guess whether it is his stock or the Gators' that has fallen further.

Saturday, there was a play in the third quarter when Matthews rolled out and simply dropped the ball. He recovered, but Spurrier said later that "the thought crossed my mind" to replace Matthews. "He was told this week," Spurrier said, "that if he couldn't play and run this offense, we'd give someone else a chance."

But Matthews played better. He stood up against an LSU blitz, and his decisions on where to throw the ball improved vastly.

His decision on when to change a play, however, needed some work.

"It was just dumb on my part," Matthews said of the third and 2. "But we're taught that when we see a blitz, to change the play. He (Spurrier) is right. I should have left the play on in that situation. It was bad on my part."

Maybe. But it wasn't criminal, and it didn't beat anyone. And when a quarterback is struggling with his confidence, doesn't it seem counterproductive for the criticism of his decision-making to turn public? Wouldn't Matthews be better off if Spurrier had waited, then corrected him privately?

Consider this: Matthews estimated that he changed plays 15 times Saturday, and one of those was an 8-yard touchdown pass to Greg Keller. Another was a 16-yard pass to Aubrey Hill on third and 10 on the same drive. He made some positive judgments, too.

So maybe he made a mistake on one play-call.

Maybe Spurrier made one, too, with his criticism.

Hey, he said he did a bad job coaching Saturday.

Top TD passers

Here are the University of Florida's career leaders for touchdown passes thrown:

Shane Matthews (1989-92) 58

Kerwin Bell (1984-87) 56

John Reaves (1969-71) 54

Steve Spurrier (1964-66) 36

Wayne Peace (1980-83) 34

David Bowden (1973-75) 19

Don Gaffney (1973-75) 19