It would not be astonishing if the mood around the Titan Football House were less than upbeat after Saturday's 46-19 loss to defending Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. champion San Jose State. Cal State Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy said Fullerton "self-destructed" in that game.
The Titans (2-1, 2-3) dropped numerous passes (the coaching staff counted 10 after reviewing the films), had two crucial lost fumbles, were intercepted once and had more than one costly penalty in a game the Titans were not expected to win, but were not expected to lose so badly.
Instead of moping, though, there's a bit of levity in the Titan Football House.
There has to be. This week, the Titans play Florida in 72,000-seat Florida Field at Gainesville, Fla.
"I'll be honest," Murphy said. "We're looking past Florida."
The game against 18th-ranked Florida (3-2) (the Gators' losses are to third-ranked Miami and seventh-ranked LSU) is the second of the Titans' two "money" games--this one, like Fullerton's 56-12 loss to Louisiana State at Baton Rouge, La., will be worth a $200,000 guarantee to Fullerton.
The Titans will discover the cost of that guarantee after they play Florida, which is led by freshman running back Emmitt Smith, whose 141.2 yards-per-game average is the nation's third best. Quarterback Kerwin Bell, the subject of a great deal of preseason hoopla, has faded to the background somewhat after throwing seven interceptions.
This game means a bit of a change in approach for Murphy, who tends to call whatever game the Titans are playing "the most important of the season."
"This week, I'm not saying that," Murphy said. "This is a game for us to get better as a football team, period. . . . I hope we play hard and improve as a football team. That's it. We have to prepare not so much for Florida as we have to take care of Cal State Fullerton."
Chief among the problems Fullerton needs to take care of is its difficulty in sustaining drives, a problem quarterback Ronnie Barber calls "fluttering," and that Murphy says he can't explain.
Unlike the LSU game, which Fullerton approached with excitement, the Florida game, Murphy said, is simply a "distraction" from the Titans' purpose--trying to win the PCAA.
The Titans will practice in Fullerton through Wednesday, then miss a day as they travel to Florida.
Gainesville will be the farthest east a Titan football team has ever played.
But why prepare for Florida at all? Why not concede a loss and get a head start on Nevada Las Vegas, Fullerton's next PCAA opponent.
One reason, mainly.
"Because we don't get the Vegas film until Thursday," Murphy said.
San Jose State's Mike Perez, who led the nation in total offense last season and was ranked second before Saturday, fell to fourth after playing just half of the Fullerton game because of a shoulder strain. Perez passed for 166 yards and rushed for minus 17. His season average dropped to 266.4 yards a game, well behind New Mexico's Barry Garrison, the current leader, who is averaging 315 yards a game.
Jim Sirois had a 61-yard punt against San Jose State, and had a 53-yarder nullified by a penalty. His average is 40.7. . . Todd White's 15.92 yards per punt return is the 12th highest in the country. . . . Fullback Tim Byrnes (hip pointer) and wide receiver Mark Hill (shoulder), who were injured against San Jose, are both questionable for the Florida game. Cornerback Tyrone Pope (knee) remains questionable, though Sean Fernandes (ankle), the backup who missed the San Jose game, should return. Outside linebacker Ted Hinton, who injured his knee in an earlier game after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in the preseason, remains out.