With just under eight minutes left in the third quarter last Saturday at Florida Field, Gators junior defensive end Alex Brown blindsided South Carolina quarterback Phil Petty. Brown jarred the football loose and crawled along the ground to recover the fumble. That inspired play helped clinch Florida's 41-21 victory and the SEC East title. It also triggered a faint memory of the Gators' 23-21 win over Tennessee in September last year, in which Brown had five sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and two pass deflections in one of the best defensive performances in Florida history.
After that game, Volunteers quarterback Tee Martin called Brown one of the best lineman he'd ever seen, and Florida State coach Bobby Bowden dubbed him Superman. Though Brown would finish 1999 with a school-record 13 sacks, kryptonite appeared over the last several weeks of the season in the form of double-team blocking. Late in the year Gators defensive coordinator Jon Hoke even criticized Brown's effort. "There were times when I got tired, took a play off and didn't rush as hard as I needed to," Brown admits. "I was living off that one great game."
Based on last year's stats, Brown was a preseason 2000 All-America, and he predicted he'd get 20 sacks this year. With his one sack Saturday he has a more modest total of 7� but that still leads the team. "Alex got off to a slow start, but in the last few games he's turned up the heat," Hoke says. "He isn't getting a ton of sacks, but quarterbacks are hearing his footsteps."
Brown, who still regularly faces double teams, says he has spent most of this year "a half step away" from nailing the quarterback and insists that his disappointing sack total no longer stems from a lack of effort. While Brown's early departure to the NFL after this season has been downgraded from probable to questionable, nobody understands better than he does how one monster game can catapult a player's stock. He's eagerly anticipating Saturday's showdown with Florida State because the Seminoles are a passing team with a relatively immobile quarterback, Chris Weinke, and Brown knows the game could hinge on whether he can put pressure on Weinke. "I remember staying up late watching the highlights of that Tennessee game because I never wanted to forget it," Brown says. "I hope to prove I can make that kind of news again."