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November 7, 2005
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Florida will face its ol' ball coach with a depleted and revamped secondary - not exactly an ideal matchup for the 12th-ranked Gators.
Cornerback and punt returner Vernell Brown broke his left leg Saturday night against Vanderbilt and will miss the final two games of the season, at South Carolina against former coach Steve Spurrier on Saturday and against Florida State on Nov. 26.
"That's a tough one, but teams that are battling for a championship in November have got to find a way to overcome it," coach Urban Meyer said Sunday, a day after Florida rebounded from a fourth-quarter collapse to beat the Commodores 49-42 in double overtime.
The Gators (7-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) had several other defensive starters injured against Vandy, including hard-hitting safety Jarvis Herring. Defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (back), defensive end Ray McDonald (knee) and linebacker Earl Everett (thigh) played through injuries.
Herring re-injured a bruised quadriceps muscle.
"It's going to be tough for us to compete if you don't have those players in there," Meyer said.
Regardless of who plays, the Gators will have a lot on the line against South Carolina.
Florida, which extended its winning streak against Vandy to 15 games, stayed in the hunt for the SEC Eastern Division title.
The Gators can win the East and advance to the conference title game in Atlanta by beating the Gamecocks next week and having Georgia lose either of its final league games against Auburn and Kentucky.
On Saturday, Vanderbilt took advantage of Florida's depth problems, especially those on defense.
Quarterback Jay Cutler sliced up the secondary, throwing for 361 yards and four touchdowns - picking mostly on backup corner Reggie Lewis, a generously listed 5-foot-10 junior who switched from receiver last spring.
Cutler had two TD passes in the final 2:17 of regulation to send the game into overtime. But his three turnovers - two in regulation and another in the second overtime - were the difference.
He had a pass bounce off Marlon White's chest in the first quarter and picked off by Brown. The Gators scored a touchdown on the ensuring possession.
On Vandy's second play of the third quarter, Cutler botched a snap, the Gators recovered and made it 21-14 two plays later.
Cutler's biggest gaffe came in overtime - trying again to pick on Lewis, who replaced Brown. Lewis stepped in front of Cutler's sideline pass and intercepted it to end the game.
"Since I've been playing at Florida, this is the biggest thing that's happened, to catch the game winning interception," Lewis said. "That's a big thing, especially to save our season. Our season was on the line and somebody had to make a play. If we hadn't made it ... who knows what would have happened."
Lewis could start against the Gamecocks. Meyer said Florida could move safety Reggie Nelson back to corner and insert struggling safety Kyle Jackson back into the starting lineup.
Meyer acknowledged Sunday that Spurrier versus his alma mater and the program he took to national prominence will be a major focus this week.
"I'm sure that will be a great story line, but I'm sure it won't be with the players," Meyer said. "This is our championship. This is not just South Carolina against Florida. The SEC East is right in the middle of this thing."For more coverage of the Florida Gators, check out GatorBait.net.