He was Dougie again. Sophomore quarterback Doug Johnson stood outside the empty Florida locker room last Saturday night and tried to explain what it all meant to him: the Gators' 32-29 upset of 10-0 Florida State, his first good performance since a one-game suspension in October, and the success of the screwball rotation of Johnson and fifth-year senior quarterback Noah Brindise, which showed again why Florida coach Steve Spurrier has more guts than any 10 of his peers. Johnson didn't need a Telestrator. "When Coach calls me Dougie, that's a good sign," Johnson said. "When he calls me Doug, that's a bad sign."
After the Gators lit up the No. 3 defense in the nation for 499 yards, Spurrier switched to all Dougie, all the time. He used the nickname when he referred to Johnson's 63-yard fourth-quarter pass to Jacquez Green, which set up the winning touchdown: "Dougie checked to it. He saw it looked pretty good." Then Spurrier used the name again—and again: "Dougie has been through a lot. We've never given up on Dougie."
Johnson, who grew up minutes from Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, had his hair slicked just so, and there was a hint of the old cockiness in his eye. Just a hint, though. "The last six weeks have been the worst I've ever experienced as an athlete," he said. "I had no confidence. That's never happened to me."
Against the Seminoles, Johnson completed 13 of 25 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown in 41 snaps. Brindise, the former walk-on, went 5 for 9 for 100 yards in 26 snaps. (They alternated on almost every play in the first two quarters, but Spurrier sent Brindise in less frequently after half-time.) Johnson didn't outshine teammate Fred Taylor, who ran for 162 yards and four touchdowns against a defense that had allowed 40.8 yards rushing per game, much less make anyone forget Danny Wuerffel. But for one day at least, he made everyone forget the Doug Johnson of Florida's previous five games. After having guided the Gators to a 5-0 record and the No. 1 ranking, Johnson had thrown four interceptions in a 28-21 loss to LSU on Oct. 11, then sat out the Gators' game against Auburn the following week after Spurrier discovered he'd missed curfew on the Thursday night before the loss. In the two games Johnson had played since then (he was benched for a game after throwing two interceptions in a 37-17 loss to Georgia on Nov. 1), he had thrown for 134 yards, three interceptions and no touchdowns.
On Nov. 17 Spurrier showed his quarterbacks and receivers a videotape of the Gators' 52-20 victory over the Seminoles last January in the Sugar Bowl. "I was trying to show them a quarterback [Wuerffel] who could throw on time and look off the secondary," Spurrier said the next day. "We eyeball our receivers up and down the field on just about every play. We're just not quite as good as last year. We're using all the same stuff."
As gloomy as he sounded, Spurrier soon would conjure the kind of idea that has caused Seminoles fans to cal him the Evil Genius. Though Spurrier said in his Tuesday pres conference that Brindise would start and "hopefully play the whole game," the decision was etched in sand. The quarterback debate spilled over into the 8:30 a.m. coaches' meeting or Wednesday. "As many people as you ask, you get that many opinions, even within the meeting room," running backs coach Carl Franks said after the game.
"We kept going over plays and saying, 'These are good for Noah. These are good for Doug,' " Spurrier said. "Finally we said 'Let's just run them in and out every play.' "
Spurrier saw several advantages to this. A shuttle would quell his worries that the Seminoles might steal the Gators signals. Spurrier could coach his quarterback before each down Johnson and Brindise could play to their strengths: Johnson throwing fades and crossing routes; Brindise handing off to Taylor. Spurrier considered tossing freshman Jesse Palmer into the rotation, too, but the logistics of juggling three quarter backs scared even him.
"If [the shuttle] works," Frank said to Spurrier in that Wednesday coaches' meeting, "it add to the length of great things you've done."
"If it doesn't work, we'll look like a bunch of dummies," Spurrier replied.