GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After nearly three seasons, Florida coach Ron Zook finally has a good chance to do something Steve Spurrier never did — win at Mississippi State.
Spurrier was winless in his only two trips to Starkville, Miss., the last one a humbling 47-35 loss in 2000. The Gators lost 30-6 there in 1992.
Zook gets a shot to one-up Spurrier on Saturday, when the struggling Bulldogs (1-5, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) host No. 20 Florida (4-2, 2-2).
Zook's last trip to Starkville was a memorable one — for all the wrong reasons.
He was Florida's defensive coordinator in 1992 when the Gators suffered their second-worst road loss during Spurrier's 12 seasons. Shane Matthews threw five interceptions — Florida had seven turnovers — and was replaced by Terry Dean.
The 24-point loss was bad, but Zook's postgame adventures made it even worse. He stayed behind to recruit but got lost trying to find a junior college. He finally found a place to spend the night around 2 a.m., but the dingy motel room had mirrors on the ceiling.
"In coaching you have your ups and downs; that's the nature of the business," Zook said Tuesday. "But I can safely say that was about as bad an evening as I've had. It's one of my four worst times in coaching."
Zook declined to identify the other three.
Spurrier's second trip to Starkville wasn't much better.
Dicenzo Miller and Dontae Walker combined for 328 yards rushing in a 12-point win.
"It was a tough loss to watch," senior safety Cory Bailey said. "They came out with a will to win and they ran the ball and ran the ball and ran the ball. They had two big backs that year and they just kept pounding it away and we couldn't stop it."
The Gators rebounded to capture their sixth conference title, but Spurrier certainly didn't forget the beating.
The following year in Gainesville, Spurrier's second-ranked team whipped No. 21 Mississippi State 52-0. Spurrier savored every single point, especially the last seven.
Rex Grossman threw for a career-high 393 yards and five TDs. But the game ball went to an equipment manager who got knocked silly by Mississippi State fans who stormed the field the previous year.
The equipment manager asked Spurrier late in the game for one more touchdown to avenge the loss and his injury.
Spurrier obliged, and Brock Berlin hit Kelvin Kight for a 23-yard touchdown with 1:45 left.
Naturally, Spurrier didn't apologize.
It was one of 11 conference victories by 20 or more points in Spurrier's final two seasons. They have just one 20-point win in 20 league games under Zook — a 28-7 victory over South Carolina in 2002.
Maybe that's one reason Zook called this game one the Gators could lose, even though Mississippi State has dropped five straight, including home losses to Maine and UAB. The Bulldogs have been outscored 125-27 in conference play.
Could the Gators lose at Mississippi State again?
"They're playing against UF, and when everybody plays against UF, they come out fired up and try to get that victory," running back Ciatrick Fason said.