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Fun ‘N’ Gun isn’t what it used to be

September 1, 1997

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Steve Spurrier considered the play of his new quarterback and a scrappy, sloppy victory over Southern Miss, then came up with the same conclusion he did eight months earlier.

``God is still smilin’ on the Gators,″ the Florida coach said after a 21-6 victory Saturday night.

No. 2 Florida, in its first game since winning the national championship Jan. 2 over Florida State, needed all the help it could get.

Doug Johnson threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in his first start for the Gators, but also threw three interception that kept the Golden Eagles in the game.

The offensive line had penalties that stalled three drives and gave up a sack that stopped another one. The result was the fewest points scored by Florida in an opener since a 24-19 loss to Ole Miss in 1989, the year before Spurrier returned as coach.

``Poor blocking, penalties ... all that adds up to 21 points,″ Spurrier said. ``And it could have been less.″

It also could have been worse.

Southern Miss had the ball inside the 30 four times without scoring. The Gators forced three of their four turnovers inside the 30, and a holding penalty hurt Southern Miss the other time.

``This will be a tape we’ll take out and say, `Look how close you were,‴ Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower said. ``I’m pleased with what we did defensively.″

The Eagles’ only touchdown came after Pat Surtain returned his second interception of Johnson 57 yards to the 13. Lee Roberts hit Tony Pinkston in the end zone on the next play.

On the next series, DeShone Mallard dropped an interception that he could have easily run back for a touchdown.

Johnson ran off the field to a chorus of boos.

``I don’t know if they were booing him or if they were booing the guy from Southern Miss for dropping the interception,″ Spurrier said. ``Maybe they were booing me.″

Or maybe they were just confused.

Since Spurrier arrived in 1990, the Gators are used to scoring a lot of points and scoring them quickly. With Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, they scored on their first possession in their first seven games.

Johnson was intercepted on his third pass and didn’t get Florida on the board until his third possession.

``I had a lot of adrenaline,″ said Johnson, who was 17-for-34 for 231 yards. ``I think I could have thrown the ball out of the stadium, I was so pumped up.″

That much was clear on the number of passes he overthrew, including a deep ball to Jacquez Green, the fastest player on the team.

Still, he had one series where he hit Green four straight times, the last one an 18-yard touchdown in which Green outjumped Mallard in the corner of the end zone.

``He played well enough to win,″ Spurrier said. ``Doug had a lot of errors, but we thought he’d have some. It’s frustrating, but it’s always good to win the game when you know you could have lost.″

Southern Miss managed only 157 yards of offense, turned the ball over four times and gave up five sacks.

Still, Bower said he would probably review the tape and kick himself for missing so many opportunities.

``Most teams would love to get it down there five times against them,″ he said.

Tony George recovered two fumbles and Teako Brown intercepted a pass in the end zone for Florida.

Fred Taylor had 101 yards rushing for Florida, but he had 70 of those in the fourth quarter. After that, Southern Miss held the Fun ‘N’ Gun in check for most of the game.

Bower was tired of hearing that the Eagles were ``giant killers″ because of victories over Florida State, Auburn, Alabama, and opening last season with a win at Georgia.

He might have gotten rid of the label with a loss.

``They’re worthy of everything they get, but give us a little credit,″ Bower said. ``I know they’re going to say, `If we didn’t do this, if we didn’t do that. ...′ We’re saying the same thing. It was a tight game.″

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