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UF's special teams return to prominence

Gators' kicking games improve in all facets after unsettling first week.

Florida's special teams came into Saturday's game against Middle Tennessee State to redeem themselves after last week's performance against Ball State.

Lito Sheppard struck first with a 54-yard punt return that ended with a dive into the end zone to put the Gators up 21-0 in the middle of the first quarter. Freshman Keiwan Ratliff provided another long return.

"Lito did a good job with his returns," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said. "Keiwan can hit that thing too. He just made one too many juke moves. We had a couple of chances to return the ball for touchdowns."

Ratliff returned a punt 42 yard to the Middle Tennessee State 28-yard line early in the fourth quarter. During last week's victory, Sheppard averaged 14 yards a punt return and 20 yards a kick return.

Ratliff began returning the punts after Sheppard left the game with a sprained left elbow in the second quarter. He said he would not have been taken out if the game was of more importance.

"It was more of a cautionary thing," said Sheppard, who is expected to return for Tennessee on Saturday.

Sheppard returned two kicks for a total of 68 yards and one touchdown and Ratliff returned three for a total of 68 yards. Redshirt freshman Ran Carthon handled the return duties on the opening kickoff, gaining 24 yards on the return.

The return game was not the only high point for the special teams. The kicking game came with something to prove before the Tennessee game.

After missing a point-after attempt and a 37-yard field goal last weekend, placekicker Jeff Chandler missed a 50-yard field goal attempt but nailed his next two attempts, from 47 yards and 24 yards.

"I can't put into words how I feel," Chandler said. "I told the guys that I'm back. It felt good out there. I have everything back."

Chandler said the game gave him the confidence he needed before going into the game against the Vols.

The Gators punted only twice, but blocking for Alan Rhine was improved after two were blocked last week by Ball State. Rhine averaged 48.5 yards.

"The coaches emphasized protection a little more in practice," Spurrier said. "We should have after last week."