GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In what was perhaps a mixture of a sports cliche and misplaced Southern hospitality, the football game here Saturday in more than one place was advertised this way: Florida entertains Cal State Fullerton.
It was quite the other way around.
Fullerton was not amused, and the entertainment was all Florida's in a 65-0 victory in front of 72,336 at Florida Field.
Freshman Emmitt Smith, who called his performance his worst since he became a starter three games ago, rushed for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns, despite playing sparingly in the second half. It was the fifth straight week that Smith, who came into the game as the nation's third-leading rusher, has gained 100 yards. Kerwin Bell, the Gator quarterback who in the midst of Heisman hype threw seven interceptions in the first five games, had a resurgence of sorts, completing 10 of 16 passes for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns without an interception.
The 18th-ranked Gators (4-2) seemed to use the game as an opportunity to make the Titans a third party in a continuation of a three-point loss to Louisiana State last week.
Or, as Florida defensive lineman Henry Brown put it: "Somebody had to pay for the LSU game."
Look who was in town.
Because Fullerton had lost to LSU, 56-12, last month, some Florida players and fans apparently figured that beating Fullerton by a larger score would somehow diminish the Gators' 13-10 loss to LSU. And after the game, the majority of questions put to Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy aimed to ascertain just which Southeastern Conference team was better.
Perhaps, Murphy said, the Titans couldn't give an accurate assessment of that, having seen second-string players during much of both games. He knew one thing, though.
"I don't want a rematch to come back and tell you which is better," he said.
For Fullerton, this, like the LSU game, was a "money" game--one in which the Titans' were far overmatched, but for which the program earned a $200,000 guarantee.
It is something Murphy, who approves the schedule made by Athletic Director Ed Carroll, has called "necessary" again and again. But was this one--Fullerton's biggest loss since a 70-0 defeat at Southern Mississippi in 1972--worth it?
'I'm a company man," Murphy said. "I refuse to comment."
Fullerton (2-4) contributed greatly to its own problems in this one.
"We made enough mistakes to last the rest of the season," Murphy said.
Fullerton quarterbacks threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Another squelched a scoring opportunity when Ronnie Barber threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage after the Titans took over on the Florida 40-yard line.
It was not an opportunity to be wasted. Fullerton, which was shut out by Hawaii in the first game of the season, crossed midfield only three times and managed only 111 net yards--51 rushing and 60 passing.
In the most bizarre scoring play of the game, Fullerton's Todd White fielded a kickoff, then passed the ball across the field, in and out of the end zone. Florida scored a safety on the attempted lateral to take a 16-0 lead.
"We just couldn't do anything," said fullback William Robinson, the Titans' leading rusher in the game with 36 yards. "I thought it would be close and they might slowly pull away, but it was like a snowball rolling downhill, especially after our lateral play didn't work."
For the Titans, it was the sort of game in which even small victories bear celebrating.
At one point, when the Titan defense stopped Smith short of the goal line on fourth and three from the four-yard line, some Fullerton players headed off the field rejoicing, so glad to have kept Smith out of the end zone that they failed to realize he had gained the first down. He scored on the next play.
Fullerton's greatest frustrations, however, were on offense.
"They were everywhere we tried to run out there today," said Eric Franklin, the Titans' leading rusher this season who was limited to 14 yards in 8 carries, nearly 60 yards below his average. "Every time we turned a corner, they were waiting on us."
Thirteen times, Florida tackled the Titans for losses; four of those were sacks.
Granted, the Titans were playing against a defense that has allowed only four touchdowns this season, but they were unable to get even within field-goal range, which begins at about the 35-yard line (a 52-yard field goal) for Stan Lambert, who has not missed in eight attempts this season.
Fullerton's last good scoring opportunity came in the fourth quarter, when the Titans had second and four at the Florida 39. But three consecutive incomplete passes by third-string quarterback Tony Dill forced the Titans to turn the ball over at the 39.
Fullerton now must turn its attention back to the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. race, and a home game Saturday against Nevada Las Vegas.
"Any chance we have of contending is in that game," said Murphy, whose team is 2-1 in the PCAA.
James Howard, a cornerback who led the team with eight tackles, looked to the UNLV game as well.
"I don't feel that bad about this one," he said. "The odds were all for them. It hurts, but we can't keep looking back."