JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Fred Taylor was a prized high school recruit trying to decide between Florida and Florida State in November 1993.
He was sitting on metal bleachers in the south end zone at Florida Field, watching the Gators and Seminoles play their annual rivalry game. He had already verbally committed to FSU coach Bobby Bowden.
Then one play changed his mind.
Charlie Ward scrambled left on third down and floated a perfect pass to freshman Warrick Dunn near the sideline. Dunn outran five defenders en route to a 79-yard touchdown reception that essentially ended any chance the Gators had of upsetting eventual national champion Florida State.
Had it not been for that score, Taylor and Dunn probably would have been college teammates.
‘‘I had a change of heart after watching him play,’’ Taylor said. ‘‘I’ll never forget it.’’
Rather than compete with Dunn for carries in Tallahassee, Taylor decided to play about 130 miles southeast in Gainesville. Their careers, though, never strayed too far apart.
Dunn became Florida State’s all-time leading rusher, was drafted 12th overall by Tampa Bay in 1997 and has amassed 9,516 yards rushing since.
Taylor was one of the best to play for the Gators, was picked ninth by Jacksonville in 1998 and has 9,529 yards on the ground despite missing several games because of injuries early in his career.
They will be on opposite sidelines for the first time since 1998 today, when the Jaguars (0-1) host the Atlanta Falcons (0-1), both teams looking for wins after disappointing season openers.
‘‘We’ve got 15 more opportunities to make right from what happened last week, and it starts this week,’’ Taylor said.
Jacksonville gave up a franchise-record 282 yards rushing in a 13-10 loss to Tennessee. The defensive line was overmatched from the start, failing to create any push, allowing gaping holes and showing signs of fatigue while spending nearly 37 minutes on the field.
‘‘Whatever didn’t work for us last week, I’m sure we’ll see it until we stop it,’’ linebacker Mike Peterson said. ‘‘You know how this league is. It’s a copycat league.’’
Atlanta had trouble on the other side of the ball. Joey Harrington was sacked six times and threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, in a 24-3 loss at Minnesota.
‘‘We need to learn how to finish a little bit better and then hopefully the offensive explosion that people are waiting for will develop from there,’’ Harrington said.
Both teams also expect more from their running games, and it starts with Taylor and Dunn.
They rank second and third, respectively, among active NFL backs in rushing yards. Trailing only Arizona’s Edgerrin James, both have their sights set on becoming the 21st player to eclipse the 10,000-yard milestone.
‘‘Hopefully both of us get there,’’ Taylor said. ‘‘That’s all that matters. Not who gets there first. In this game, you never know. One play you expect to get it and all signs say you’re going to get, but then that fatal blow could happen. Who knows? We’re going to pray that doesn’t happen.’’
They also have to hope playing time doesn’t become a factor because both have second-year pros behind them who have earned more carries.
Dunn ran 22 times for 55 yards in the opener. Trying to prove he’s healthy following offseason back surgery, he averaged a paltry 2.5 yards a carry. Jerious Norwood came off the bench and carried five times for 33 yards.
The Falcons don’t anticipate a change yet.
‘‘Warrick has a gear that I think people just don’t expect,’’ Harrington said. ‘‘He is obviously a little guy in stature, but he has tremendous vision, incredibly fast and just runs unbelievably hard. You put those three things together — talent, vision and drive — and you are going to get a running back that will stay in the league for a while.’’
Taylor gained 16 yards on six carries last week, and that was with a 17-yard run. Maurice Jones-Drew ran seven times for 32 yards off the bench.
‘‘We’ve got to turn the page on that one,’’ Taylor said.
And hope for that all-important first win.
‘‘It’s not about just me and Warrick,’’ Taylor said. ‘‘Both of us need a win real bad, both teams. I think that will be more significant. I don’t think an 0-2 start is the end of the world. But we don’t want to be 0-2.’’
ATLANTA AT JACKSONVILLE
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.
TV/Radio: FOX/WDAK-AM 540