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Finally, the game // No. 3 UF 38, Vanderbilt 7

Well, okay, they won. There's not much more you can say about the Gators.

Like a band playing just a littleoff-key, like a platoon marching just a bit out of step _ or like a football team with other things on its mind _ Florida looked less than perfect but kept a perfect record with a 38-7 victory Saturday over Vanderbilt.

One week away from its meeting with Florida State, the Gators' offense sputtered and coughed its way through the first half against the Commodores before two long touchdowns on its first three offensive plays of the third quarter pretty much ended any suspense.

The Gators are 10-0 for the first time, 8-0 in the Southeastern Conference _ but they didn't look like it.

"It's a good day when you're not playing all that well and still score 38 points," said Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who passed for 299 yards in three quarters and tossed two touchdowns to set a school record of 29 for the season.

The Gators' struggles kept Vanderbilt within the 41-point spread, if not really in the game. Fortunately for Florida, the Commodores' own ineptitude kept them from capitalizing on the Gators' gifts.

"The most difficult part for us," Vandy coach Rod Dowhower said, "was that we had some breaks we couldn't take advantage of. You need to get six (points) against a team like Florida. Our defense gave us opportunities; so did our special teams. We didn't do a thing with them."

A 65-yard kickoff return to the Florida 35 by Cliff Deese following the Gators' first score went for naught when Mike Peterson blocked a field-goal try. A fumble recovery that gave Vanderbilt the ball on the Florida 28 went nowhere. Vanderbilt didn't score until 4:31 remained.

"If Vandy'd had an offense that could've stayed on the field," Spurrier said, "shoot, we could've been in a lot of trouble today."

With Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6) out of the way, the Gators begin preparing for Saturday's game against the Seminoles and the SEC championship against Arkansas on Dec. 2 in Atlanta.

"If we go out there next week and play the way we played today, we'll definitely get beat," said Chris Doering, whose two touchdown receptions tied Florida and SEC records for a season (15) and a career (29).

"Maybe in a season there are times when in the back of your mind you say to yourself, "We don't have to worry about this one,' and you start thinking about the next one, the big one," Doering said. "I can't say for sure if this was one of those, but there were times it sure looked like it."

Indeed. Dropped passes, underthrown and overthrown passes _ very little seemed to go right for the Gators. "Some days, things just don't seem to go your way," Doering said. "This definitely was one of them _ for a while, at least."

"I've been through a few of these before," Gators coach Steve Spurrier said. "You say to yourself, "Hopefully, this is the one we had to get out of our system.'

"

The Gators' 17 points were the fewest they've scored this year in the first half. But they held the opposition scoreless in the first half for the first time since the second game of the season, against Kentucky.

"We came in at halftime," Spurrier said, "and I said, "Lord, if we don't make those two fourth downs, we're sitting here 7-0 or 7-3 or 7-7.'

"

The first one, a 16-yard burst by Eli Williams on fourth and 3 at the Gators' 40, preceded the first of Doering's touchdown catches and gave Florida a 14-0 lead. The second, a 13-yard Wuerffel-to-Doering completion on fourth and 10 at the Vanderbilt 39, kept alive a drive that ended with a field goal eight seconds before the half.

"We keep going for them and fortunately we seem to make the critical ones," Spurrier said. "Someday we'll miss one and it'll be a dumb call on my part."

The first touchdown, Terry Jackson's 9-yard burst up the middle, followed a missed chance by a wide-open Ike Hilliard in the end zone, one of the many drops that plagued Wuerrfel in the early going.

"We probably really shocked (the Commodores) on that one," Spurrier said. "Third and 7 and we run it. We'd kept throwing and throwing, and dropping and dropping, so the coaches up top (in the press box) said, "Let's run the ball,' and we got Vanderbilt sort of spread out and it worked."

Two plays into the third quarter, the Gators put the game away. After Wuerffel was sacked for 7 yards, Williams exploded up the middle on a draw play for 70 yards and a 24-0 lead.

Vanderbilt had the ball for the next eight minutes but finally turned it over on downs. Wuerffel responded by leading Jacquez Green perfectly on a 76-yard scoring pass.

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