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Expect shootout at high noon // UF

When Danny Wuerffel breaks the huddle and strides toward the line behind center Jeff Mitchell, he surveys an offense that occasionally amazes even him.

"So many weapons _ running backs, receivers, so many great athletes," Wuerffel, Florida's quarterback, said after practice for Saturday's showdown with Florida State. "It's great knowing you can get the ball to them on a short, simple play or a deep pattern, and either one of them can go for a touchdown any time.

"There are times when I've actually thought to myself, "Geez, I get to pick and choose.' "

This is the Steve Spurrier-designed attack that FSU will have to deal with, No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference (and on its way to shattering the SEC record) and No. 4 in the nation. A passing game ranked No. 2 in the nation and leading the SEC in virtually every category. Its 42 touchdown passes (32 by Wuerffel) is 10 more than the conference's next-best school has.

It is an offense that FSU coach Bobby Bowden calls "brash, audacious." Who else, he asks rhetorically, would spread the defense with five receivers and leave Wuerffel with no backs to protect him? "Steve Spurrier, that's who," Bowden says. "But that quarterback knows exactly what to do with that ball if you do this. That's one thing that's made (the Gator offense) very different."

If it seems at times that Spurrier's idea of a scoring drive is 80 yards, one play, seven seconds, well, that's not too far off the mark.

"It does seem like it, doesn't it?" he said. "We do pull it off once in a while. It'd be nice if we could do it more often. Got to keep trying."

If 300 yards is the benchmark for a top-notch passing game, Spurrier's name is carved into the bench. In 72 Gators games, his teams have thrown for 300 or more yards 42 times (compared with 14 times in Florida's previous 83 years).

"Being a part of something as potent as this, it's flat-out exciting," said Wuerffel, whose words are so much more exciting than his demeanor that one is tempted to check him for a pulse. He is as low-key as Spurrier, that visor-throwing demon, is animated.

"Well, yeah, I don't get too worked up on the outside," Wuerffel said. And what about the inside? "No, not too much there, either," he said.

Now he goes up against an FSU passing game capable of just about matching Florida's _ or have you forgotten Danny Kanell lighting up the Gators' defense for 421 yards in last year's 31-31 tie? The Seminoles' 343.2 yards per game this season is third in the nation, behind the Gators' 360.5.

"You sort of think this thing is going to turn into a shootout," Wuerffel said, "but you never know. Sometimes, with the big games, the defenses get really hyped and wind up controlling things."

Odds are, you won't find a 1,000-yard rusher on a Spurrier team (although current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Errict Rhett managed it twice in his career). And there was that 1984 USFL season when the Spurrier-coached Tampa Bay Bandits had Gary Anderson and Greg Boone, both 1,000-yard rushers _ oh, and John Reaves, a 4,000-yard passer.

You won't find a 1,000-yard rusher on this team, barring a couple of exceptional games by Eli Williams (756 yards, seven touchdowns) against FSU and then Arkansas, in the SEC championship. Williams and Terry Jackson (622 yards, five TDs) and Fred Taylor (out with strained ligaments in his left knee) could be said to be in there mostly to give Wuerffel's arm an occasional rest.

"Well now, that's not quite fair," Spurrier said, acting as if he had been mortally wounded. "You know, we are third in the conference" with 187.5 yards rushing per game.

Still, the Gators' offensive game plan often seems to start and end with Wuerffel (whose 29 TD passes are a UF record and tie the SEC mark) and Chris Doering (whose 15 TD catches equal school and conference records). Doering and Ike Hilliard account for 27 of the Gators' 42 TD receptions.

"If we're executing," Doering said, "and the quarterbacks are making the right reads and the receivers are making the right reads, there's really not much the other team can do."

Added offensive tackle Mo Collins: "We can go out there and in two or three plays we've gone 75, 80 yards. I bet there's times our defense wishes we'd take our time so's they could catch their breath."

Not quite.

"I don't care how little time we have to rest up," linebacker Jason Bates said. "They can score in 10 seconds if they want. If they're going to keep scoring, that's going to be the motivation for the defense to keep playing our best."

So what must it be like to try to defend against an offense like Florida's? Ask Bob Pruett, the Gators defensive coordinator. "I do it every spring," he said. "It's not easy.

"When it gets going on you, it's not easy to slow it down."

_ Staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.