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Published Sep. 2, 2005

It has been a long season for the Commodores. Vanderbilt has just one victory, none in the conference.

Sophomore quarterback Jay Cutler has been a bright spot. He is second in the SEC in total offense and is coming off a three-touchdown performance last week against South Carolina.

Vanderbilt's defense has vastly improved. Playing mostly sophomore starters, the defense has allowed fewer points, first downs, passing yards and total offense than last year's team.

But the Commodores have committed twice as many turnovers as they have forced, ranking last in the conference in turnover margin.

A big part of Vanderbilt's problem is its inability to jump on opponents early. In four of the last five games, it has trailed by at least 10 points at the end of the first quarter. Defensively, the Commodores will pose the most problems for Florida's passing game. Vandy ranks No. 19 nationally in passing defense, allowing just 187 yards per game.


Leach has emerged as a serious offensive threat for the Gators. He's third in the conference in field goals and kicked the game-winner against Georgia last week. Leach took a moment to chat while basking in the afterglow of victory.

AE: How often have you relived that kick?

ML: The next day I woke up and I can't believe that happened. I'm just really happy that I made it and we won the game.

AE: How many game-winning kicks have you kicked in your career?

ML:: One big one sticks out in my mind, a 51-yarder in my junior year in high school in a district game.

AE: When you were struggling last year, you had to know in your mind you could do it. How tough was that?

ML: That's what hurt me the most. I knew I could do it, but my mind was thinking one thing and then I'd go out there and it would be the total opposite. People talking bad about me, that didn't hurt me. What hurt me the most was knowing I could, I just couldn't go out there and do it. Toward the end of the season that's when we started to show what we can do and we just carried that into this year."

AE: What's the difference between this year and last?

ML: The holder, the long snapper, we just did a lot of work over the summer. Every day, every other day going out there hitting balls. Casey's ( Griffith) snapping real well and obviously Sean Morton is holding the ball real well and we got things together this year. We just went out there over the summer and practiced, practiced, practiced like every day."


"I tell our players this: One of the things that make this the best job in football is also the thing that can make it extremely difficult. Guys in the NFL always say that you need to have a little fear for your job because it makes you work a little harder. We are only 60 minutes away from being right back where we started."

_ Florida coach Ron Zook on the adversity surrounding this season.


They call it shutting out the "noise in the system."

Translation? The fans and the media. At the low point, after back-to-back home conference losses for the first time since 1988, the players decided the best way to stay away from the criticism was to avoid newspapers, sports talks shows and the like.

"I can't speak for everybody," offensive tackle Max Starks said. "But I know the offensive line, what I have control over, none of those guys do. We don't focus on the TV or the media. ... I don't even watch ESPN anymore. I just go out there, play video games and do homework."

So why so much hate?

"I just think guys, after a point when we were probably at our lowest standings with you guys, they just kind of got a strong distaste for it. So it was something they didn't focus on or didn't like reading anymore. And now that we've been winning games, they still don't care for it that much."


The victory over Georgia was the Gators' sixth, which makes them bowl eligible. Yet, despite its recent turnaround, Florida is just the fourth-highest ranked team in the Southeastern Conference. For now, Tennessee, Georgia and LSU are more viable bowl choices. There's still a lot to be decided, but the Peach is a likely option.

_ Compiled by Antonya English.