Offensive show expected between Syracuse, Florida
Posted: Friday January 01, 1999 05:08 PM
MIAMI (AP) -- Leave the national-championship posturing to others. For sheer entertainment value, No. 7 Florida and 18th-ranked Syracuse in the Orange Bowl holds the potential for lots of fireworks.
Few teams have more ways to attack a defense than the Gators and Orangemen, making for razzle-dazzle offense and overworked scoreboards.
"We have a multiple offense, but Florida is more multiple than we are," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "I look at it as a lot of points being scored and something that's fun to watch."
Syracuse (8-3) averaged 42.5 points, third-best in the nation, and 430.0 yards per game during the regular season. Florida (9-2) averaged 31.7 points and 461.9 yards -- a down year by standards established since coach Steve Spurrier took over nine years ago.
Did somebody say shootout?
"Could be," Syracuse safety Jason Poles said. "Both teams have plenty of firepower on offense."
The Orangemen are directed by multi-talented Donovan McNabb, who is just as apt to run the option, drop back to pass or suddenly take off on a quarterback draw out of shotgun formation.
He threw for 2,134 yards and 22 touchdowns this season and rushed for 438 yards and eight TDs, accounting for 54 percent of Syracuse's offense.
"McNabb's the best quarterback we've played all season," Florida safety Teako Brown said. "You'll see guys look like they'll get a sack on him, then all of a sudden it's an 80-yard touchdown."
Florida is in flux defensively, with three key players out and defensive coordinator Bob Stoops gone to become coach at Oklahoma.
Bob Sanders, a 12-year Spurrier assistant who coached outside linebackers and defensive ends, will coordinate the defense. But tackle Ed Chester is out with a knee injury and end Tim Beauchamp and backup cornerback Dock Pollard were suspended for breaking university rules.
Still, the Gators believe if they can keep McNabb in check, the rest of the offense will suffer.
"We're going to try to stop McNabb," said linebacker Jevon Kearse, a Butkus Award finalist. "If we do a good job on him, then things will look good for the Gators."
Florida has quick-strike ability. The Gators scored 26 of their 44 touchdowns in two minutes or less, and their average TD drive was only 1:43.
Eight Florida players caught touchdown passes this season, including quarterback Doug Johnson.
"They're in more formations than anybody we've ever played," Pasqualoni said. "They can go with four wideouts, they can go five wideouts. Then they'll go with two wideouts and two tight ends. It can wear you out just trying to keep track of it."
Johnson, who regained his starting job after Jesse Palmer broke a collarbone against LSU, threw for 2,346 yards and 19 TDs.
"Doug's got a chance to be the clear-cut quarterback for the '99 season," Spurrier said. "But he's got to earn it."
Palmer is available after taking about half the snaps in practice this week, but Spurrier was coy about his playing time.
"If Doug gets hurt, Jesse goes in," Spurrier said. "If Doug throws about seven interceptions in the first half, Jesse goes in."
Whether the Gators can run the ball is a bigger worry. Florida averaged only 115.8 yards rushing this season, 95th among Division I-A teams. In losses against Tennessee and Florida State, the Gators managed four yards in 50 carries. That's 2.9 inches per attempt.
Florida hopes for a boost from the return of Terry Jackson, who had four 100-yard rushing games before severely spraining an ankle in October. That caused him to miss three games and limited his duty in two others.
"He's a guy that can do it all out of the backfield," Johnson said. "We need a guy like that back there."
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