... the LSU Tigers limped back to Baton Rouge with an "L" in the column that counts. Oh, how sweet it would be to witness (Saturday) a replay of UK's epic performance against Les Miles' national championship squad. Not because I despise Gator quarterback (and choir boy) Tim Tebow, or his sometimes pompous head coach Urban "What Were His Parents Thinking?" Meyer, rather, losing to the Gators has become an unfortunate rite of passage for UK fans under the age of, well, any age actually, and it's time it stopped.
Since 1986, the last time UK beat Florida, the Gators have out-shined the 'Cats by a cumulative score of 927 - 412 -- Average score: Florida - 42, UK - 19. That's embarrassing, or at least it should be. And making matters more despicable, the futility Kentucky has suffered goes back even further, for before UK's 10 - 3 victory in '86, one has to go back to 1979 to find another good guy win, this one a 31 - 3 Wildcat victory. So, if one is slow on the uptake, what that means is UK is 2 - 28 against Florida in their last 30 meetings. Hopefully, UK is exhausted from being the nail ... it's now time for Kentucky to be the heavy hitter (apologies to Darryl Isaacs).
Couple the fact that Florida is coming off an uninspiring 23 - 13 win over the Tennessee Vols in The Swamp last Saturday, with the Gators' death-dive defeats of Sun Belt power Troy (56 - 6) and Big South bully Charleston Southern (62 - 3), question marks abound where exclamation points are usually found. In other words, no one knows yet how good the Gators are, or can be.
Not helping the Gator cause against the Vols, along with several players exhibiting flu-like symptoms, was the absence of wide receiver Deonte Thompson to a hamstring injury (he's supposed to play Saturday), a loss which further exposed the gaping hole left by the graduation of pass catcher/running back (and 'Cat killer) Percy Harvin and wide-out Louis Murphy -- Evidence: Tight end Aaron Hernandez was Florida's top receiver on Saturday, with four catches for 26 yards. Yeah, you read that right, four catches for 26 yards. Uber-defensive back Eric Berry and his fellow Vol secondary members, along the youthful Gator receivng corps, limited Tebow to only 14 - 19 passing, for 115 yards (Tebow's longest pass went for only 18 yards) and an interception. Tebow's performance broke a string of 30 straight games in which the former Heisman Trophy winner has thrown a touchdown pass.
Holy Spurrier, has the Gators offense become a one-dimensional ground attack? If Saturday's contest is any indication, they might have become just that, at least for now -- Out of 63 offensive plays, Florida ran the ball 44 times for 208 yards (4.7 yards per carry). Of course, leading the ground charge was Tebow with 76 yards on 24 carries (3.2 ypc), followed by 5'9" running back Chris Rainey, with 64 yards on only nine carries (7.1 ypc). The old adage long held by Woody Hayes, seems to hold true here -- Why throw the ball, when you can run? Why indeed?
So, is it possible the 'Cats could stack the box with eight or even nine players in an effort to bring a halt to the Gator ground game? Or is that game-plan a recipe for a disastrous night for UK defensive backs Trevard Lindley, Paul Warford, and Winston Guy; the three players I would want covering the Florida receivers if UK goes with an eight man front. We'll probably never know the answer to my question, though, because I don't expect head coach Rich Brooks or defensive coordinator Steve Brown to venture that far outside of the box (and probably rightly so).
Whatever UK's defensive game-plan might be, a concerted effort must be made to contain Tebow. He's their Peyton Manning and Tom Brady all wrapped-up in one rather large 6'3", 245 lb package. And the last time he visited Lexington he threw for a personal-best four touchdowns, on 18 of 26 passing (256 yards), in Florida's 45 - 37 win.
"Contain Tebow, yeah right." I know that's what you're thinking, sitting there drinking your breakfast drink of choice. But my friends, that's how the 'Cats beat Florida -- DeQuin Evans, Corey Peters, Micah Johnson, Sam Maxwell, Collins Ukwu and crew must not only pressure Tebow, no, pressure only brings out the best in him, instead, they must terrorize Tebow with pancake hits, and brain-rattling sacks. Force him out of his comfort zone, and then make him pay the price for traveling into our back yard, and trying to push us around. Be men, do what men do: Beat the be-jeezus out of each other.
You see, Tebow is a winner. Probably always has been, probably always will be, but winners don't win all the time. Sometimes they lose, but they don't lose of their own volition, they need some help. And UK's defense must be the unit to provide the impetus for his defeat, via their persistent smash-mouth mentality, and aggressive pursuit of the enemy. There should be no letting-up in UK's determination -- If Tebow's nose is bloodied, bloody his mouth. If his mouth is bleeding, keep attacking until his teeth fall out. Don't stop ... ever. He's the enemy, and he prances onto our turf with the mindset of beating Kentucky for the fourth straight time. This time he should be vanquished, thankful he doesn't have to visit again.
Anything less is unacceptable. This team, this school, has embarrassed UK for far too long -- 63 - 6, 73 - 17, 65 - 0, 55 - 28. It's time the Gators paid. And who better to pay the piper, than the "Golden Boy" himself?
Now, for those who are at this moment exclaiming, "Howlett wants UK to play dirty Saturday!" Don't. One of the great things about football is one can inflict great pain and punishment while following the rules of the game. Just ask Dave Ragone, circa September 1, 2002.
I feel confident in saying, we're in the midst of a sea-change in the Kentucky football program. We've seen improvement in the type of player now coming to Kentucky; we've seen improvement in UK's won-loss record; we've seen three straight bowl wins for the first time in the program's history; and we've seen victories, when losses were expected. UK has bounced back from the throes of probation, bounced back to be better than they've ever been: 25 - 16 over the last three years. But now, ripe is the fruit, ready to be picked. The next step in the evolution of Kentucky football is upon us, and that step has an orange and blue hue.
Not since 1984 ... No. 1 in the country ... Too good to be true quarterback ... A coach easy to hate ... At home -- The set-up is perfectly pristine for Kentucky to execute the heist. For this game can be stolen, but it will take a single-minded determination. A determination to destroy the enemy, and take what is ours. And if any of you guys (players) are bored enough to be reading my work; If you can't summon the strength and will to do it for yourselves, do it for Marty Moore, Pookie Jones, Billy Jack Haskins, Tim Couch, Craig Yeast, Rafael Little, Artose Pinner, Jared Lorenzen, Wesley Woodyard, Marlon McCree, Myron Pryor, Andre' Woodson, Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson, Dicky Lyons, and all the other Wildcat players unfortunate enough to be on a team not quite good enough to beat the bad guys. Okay, now back to studying game film.
My Best Prognostication
If the 'Cats keep 'em under 30 points, they have a chance to send No.1 back to the sunshine as a nice, matching, handbag/shoes combo Paris Hilton would be proud of.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, beat the Gators!