Play-calling gaffe latest of Florida's problems

Posted: Wednesday, October 16, 2002

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Rex Grossman surveyed the defense, called an audible, took the snap and threw for a touchdown -- to the wrong team.

It turned out that the audible, a little wiggle of the hand, means one thing under Florida offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher's new system and another under Steve Spurrier's old one.

Or so the story goes.

Was it a simple mistake, or something more unseemly?

That's one of the big questions this week in Gainesville, and after a full round of interviews on Monday and Tuesday, it remains a mystery, mostly because all the key parties are giving conflicting explanations.

To refresh, the Gators had third-and-11 from their own 30 in the first quarter against LSU on Saturday, when Grossman made the audible and threw the pass right into the hands of Tigers cornerback Corey Webster. The 45-yard touchdown return gave LSU a 10-0 lead en route to a 36-7 victory.

Upon throwing the interception, Grossman immediately ran over to the intended receiver, Taylor Jacobs, and started berating him for going long, instead of curling back for a 12-yard pass.

Grossman claimed the audible meant one thing under Spurrier's offense and another under Zaunbrecher's, and the whole thing was an innocent crossing of signals.

''We have a form of the same signal,'' Grossman said. ''It's one of those deals we need to start with a clean slate, no old signals. No confusion at all. That's definitely a play where that became a problem.''

The quarterback admitted, however, that a number of times this year, he has caught himself calling the Spurrier audibles, and his teammates always got it.

''They knew what I was talking about,'' he said. ''I just need to reprogram my mind. Everybody does.''

There are a number of theories floating around for why the play turned out like it did, and among them is that Grossman intentionally called the Spurrier audible without his coaches knowing.

Head coach Ron Zook did nothing to counter that theory Tuesday, saying only that ''you have to be on the same page when you're making audibles and so forth.'' He would not give a straight answer when asked if the Spurrier hand signal was still among Florida's audibles.

''I'm not going to talk about our audibles, because people will go back and watch the tape,'' Zook said.

The thought that other teams might know Florida's audibles better than the Gators do themselves seems laughable, but it really might be possible.

Available on the Internet for $39.95 is a video called ''The Basis of the Thundering Herd Offense,'' an intricate dissection of the Marshall offense, starring none other than Zaunbrecher, who was coordinator there in 2000 and 2001.

Zaunbrecher put the blame for the interception on Jacobs, saying he responded to an audible from Spurrier's system, while Grossman threw the pass from the new system.

''It's a freak deal,'' Zaunbrecher said. ''I didn't even know that signal had been used previously.''

Jacobs, however, said he felt he ''had specific instructions by the coaches to do that route that I ran.''

A confusing caper, indeed, and it is one of a hundred explanations for why Grossman has fallen to 11th in the Southeastern Conference in passing efficiency -- not even high enough to make it on the SEC's thorough sheet of weekly stats leaders.

While Zook isn't giving any answers for the interception, he is changing the way plays get called -- and changed.

Beginning this week, he's taking away a good portion of Grossman's flexibility at the line of scrimmage, and he'll greatly limit the number of plays Grossman gets to call without input from the sideline. Grossman had been running a few series each half on his own.

Zook wants to take the play-calling pressure off Grossman, whose status for next Saturday's game against Auburn is a gametime decision after he sprained his knee against LSU.

''Let's make the calls, let's let Rex line up and do what he does best, and that's play football,'' Zook said.

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