September 10, 2002
‘Canes Downgrade Grossman
by Keith Weiland
That sound you heard on Saturday afternoon wasn’t Tropical Storm Fay dumping gross amounts of rainfall from the sky. No, that was the sound of the Miami Hurricanes dumping Rex Grossman from a certain first round draft status.
What was prematurely billed as the “Game of the Century,” albeit a new one, the latest battle for supremacy in the Orange Juice state failed to deliver the pulp. Though the game featured more than a dozen names that figure to be called out during the 2003 NFL Draft, Grossman may no longer hear his name spoken by Tags, who has the honors in the first round.
Grossman was the one who, last January, weighed his NFL options after Steve Spurrier announced he was headed for Deadskin country. When those in the know told Grossman at best he would be a late first rounder in last April’s draft, and possibly an early second round pick, Grossman put his money on himself and stayed in Gainesville one more year.
Though risk was involved in keeping the hand he was dealt – a relative unknown in Ron Zook follows Spurrier’s gloriously gluttonous fun ‘n’ gun – the opportunity to shine in a new offense might put to rest any concerns of Grossman’s talents being just a product of the system, as was the case for his quarterbacking predecessors. And if Grossman could deliver on a stage such as the one set on Saturday, his gamble may have paid off handsomely.
It wasn’t a good bet. On the surface, there were signs that Grossman would be in the chips. Vegas certainly was betting on Grossman and made the Gators a favorite in The Swamp, despite the Hurricanes’ status as National Champs and a team that had yet to lose in twenty-three straight. Miami had lost playmaking ability in its secondary, especially in corners Phillip Buchanon and Mike Rumph, but especially in safety Ed Reed. With such a green secondary facing the talented arm of Grossman and the bevy of Gator wideouts, the window of opportunity for Grossman was there.
The signs pointed south shortly after kickoff. Grossman’s offense tried to out-scheme the Hurricanes, and all the Canes did was punch them in the mouth. The Miami defensive line, led by William Joseph, but fortified by the likes of Jerome McDougle, Vince Wilfork and Andrew Williams, kept pressure on the Florida quarterback and disrupted any rhythm Grossman tried to establish.
Grossman was exposed as a quarterback unprepared for such relentless pressure. His mechanics were sloppy, and his passes inaccurate and overthrown. He made poor decisions with the football. Grossman threw off his back foot, failed to look off the defender, and he forced the ball into places it didn’t belong. With his team driving late in the third quarter, Grossman threw a pick three yards from paydirt, thereby killing his team’s desperate comeback hopes. For the day, he completed just 42 percent of his passes, 191 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. A third INT was mercifully called back in the first half because of a questionable penalty.
And what of the winning quarterback, Ken Dorsey? Despite the victory and four TD passes, he did little to improve his draft status with three interceptions of his own. The Florida defense applied scant pressure, but it was enough to keep Dorsey off-balance as well. Dorsey’s arm lacks the strength that Grossman’s has, so his status wasn’t nearly as damaged.
With both squads featuring potential NFL talent, Saturday’s game was a good, early litmus test. Miami RB Willis McGahee did the most to improve his stock. After taking two beatings last year – one physical (from a knee injury) and one emotional (from since-departed starter Clinton Portis) – McGahee showed off his size and speed. His 204 rushing yards against a top-10 defense is certain to impress NFL scouts.
Miami wide receiver Andre Johnson, the Rose Bowl MVP with track star speed, had a mixed performance. Certainly a factor with four catches for 53 yards and a touchdown, Johnson also couldn’t hide his cement hands at times. Johnson will also need to learn to adjust better to poorly thrown passes, but his lone score on a post-flag pattern showed how deadly of a weapon Johnson can be in the red zone.
Defensively, aside from the impressive play of the Hurricane line, Florida linebacker Byron “Bam” Hardmon was a bright spot for the Gators. Hardmon was active in nearly every play, and his third quarter interception return for a touchdown nearly sparked a Florida comeback. Miami’s converted outside linebacker D.J. Williams, on the other hand, had an uneven performance and still looked like he was learning the position.
Still, it was Grossman’s time to shine in the spotlight and he failed to take advantage of the opportunity this time. The pressure isn’t about to let up, but that should be good news for Grossman. With upcoming games away from The Swamp against the top defenses at Tennessee (9/21) and at Florida State (11/30) among others, Grossman isn’t about to fold yet.
Keith Weiland always knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. He knows when to walk away and when to run. And yes, that’s him running away right now.