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Gators have score to settle

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The 2006 meeting with Auburn, the last team to beat Florida, hasn’t been forgotten.


GAINESVILLE – Urban Meyer remembers late-night chaos in the visitors’ locker room at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn had just scored a 27-17 home win over Meyer’s Gators, and he watched his players responded by challenging each other to fights, screaming in disgust, crying in the corners.

An assistant coach slid next to Meyer and advised him to change the mood.


“I said, ‘No, let it go,’ ” Meyer said Monday. “We let it go for about 15 minutes. I wanted to watch and I wanted to clear the air.”

The air clearance carried to the corridor outside the locker room, where receiver Andre Caldwell questioned quarterback Chris Leak’s ability to lead the team to a championship. The world knows what happened from there — Leak did take UF to titles, and the Gators haven’t lost since that night at Jordan-Hare.

Auburn returns the visit Saturday when the teams meet at Florida Field.

The Auburn loss has stuck with the Gators who returned for the 2007 season. Two second-half plays in particular — a blocked punt returned for a Tigers touchdown and a Chris Leak fumble at the Auburn 10 yard line — remain fresh in their minds.

“You would think that if we won 13 games, it could take some of the sting out of that one,” tight end Tate Casey said Monday. “Seeing them again was a huge motivator for us.”

Another motivator came two days after the loss, when Meyer gathered the team. They listened to tape comments from former Gator Danny Wuerffel, who talked about how his 1996 Gators rebounded from a loss to Florida State to win the Southeastern Conference and national championships.

Each player received a card with the quote; dozens of the players carried it with them through their trip to the BCS national title game in Arizona. Others just listened that morning and let the message govern their next three months.

“The [players] up front, the guys who counted, and our coaching staff,” Meyer said, “my mouth went dry. It was a heck of a deal.”

The loss also lingers because, well, it doesn’t happen so much around here anymore. The 25 true freshmen on the active roster here have never lost a college game. And the 26 guys in year No. 2 of their UF careers are undefeated save last year’s trip to Auburn.

It’s not a set of feelings these Gators, double-digit favorites this week, look forward to feeling again.

“I don’t know if it’s better to win or worse to lose,” quarterback Tim Tebow said. “Losing is heartbreaking.”

It’s also chaotic, a time that leads to screaming and crying and fights among teammates who’ll go down as the most tightly bonded in UF history. It’s a night few around here have forgotten. And it’s a night that’s fueled Florida for the last 50 weeks.

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