Tonight at 7:00 on ESPNU, Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips will attempt to end 23 years of frustration for the Cats, as UK invades "The Swamp" looking for their first victory over the Florida Gators since 1986, a 10-3 Jerry Claiborne-led Wildcat victory. It won't be easy.
Although from last season the Gators lost All-America quarterback Tim Tebow, All-America tight end Aaron Hernandez, and wide receiver Riley Cooper (nine touchdowns in '09) on offense, along with Carlos Dunlap and six other starters on defense, they remain one of the elite teams in the country. And with the game being played in the comfortable confines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, amongst 90,000 rowdy reptile supporters, many of the Cats will face true southern hostility for the first time.
But, this is a tantalizing opportunity for the 3-0 Wildcats to make a statement to the SEC, as well as the rest of the country, that they are for real, and ready to rumble with anyone unlucky enough to find themselves on the Kentucky schedule. But perfection, or near perfection must be in the Kentucky game-plan, for anything short of flawless football will be met with a grin by the Gators.
For a look at No.8 ranked Florida (3-0), follow me after the jump (if you haven't read the Herald-Leader's Chip Cosby's excellent 10 keys for a Cats victory, I recommend giving his always pertinent thoughts a read):
The Gator Offensive
Quarterback John Brantley: 6-3, 200 lb junior -- Brantley has completed 49-79 passes (62.0%) for 452 yards and five touchdowns, with zero interceptions. Last season, in relief of the concussed Tebow, Brantley was simply magnificent, throwing for 410 yards on 36-48 passing (75.0%), seven touchdowns, and, you guessed it, zero INT's. For his career, Brantley has completed 85 of 127 (66.9%) of his throws for 12 touchdowns and nary an interception.
The one concern this season with Brantley is his yards per completion number (leading Meyer to use the term, good "game management," when describing Brantley's play), which has dropped from 11.4 yards last year to a pedestrian 9.2 yards in 2010. But, he is still a very dangerous weapon, possessing the ability to pick apart a secondary with his precision passing. Meyer has expressed a desire for his quarterback to become more aggressive, which is something the Cats might see today.
UK must find a way to pressure Brantley (starting with defensive end DeQuin Evans) and not allow him the time he needs to run through his route reads, or it could be a very long day for the big blue secondary.
Running back Jeffery Demps: 5-8, 190 lb junior -- This season Demps is the fourth leading rusher in the SEC with 310 yards on 45 carries (6.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. The diminutive, yet versatile Demps has also caught eight passes for 59 yards (7.4 yards per reception), and been very effective in the return game with six KO returns, good for a 36.8 average. Demps is first in the SEC with 196.7 all-purpose yards per game.
Demps is the type of player that keeps defensive coordinators up all night pondering how to stop the extremely fleet-footed back from spoiling the party. Demps' burst is unequaled in the SEC, mandating UK hit him early (and low), before he has a chance to gather steam and hit open space. Short of that ... hope for the stomach flu.
Running back Emmanuel Moody: 5-11, 215 lb, senior -- Moody has rushed 24 times for 79 yards (3.3 ypc).
Running back Mike Gillislee: 5-11, 198 lb sophomore -- On the year, Gillislee has carried the ball 18 times for 111 yards (6.2 ypc) and three touchdowns.
Wide receiver Deonte Thompson: 5-11, 203 lb junior -- Thompson is 10th in the SEC in receiving yards per game with 54.0. The speedy wide out has caught 13 passes for 162 yards (12.5 ypr), but no touchdowns.
Wide receiver Carl Moore: 6-4, 219 lb senior -- Moore has caught seven passes for 66 yards (9.4 ypr) and one touchdown.
Tight end Omarius Hines: 6-0, 219 lb sophomore -- Replacing the excellent Aaron Hernandez, Hines has pulled in seven passes for 70 yards (10.0 ypr) on one touchdown.
All of the Gator pass catchers pose a real challenge for the Wildcat secondary. They all possess game-changing speed, good hands, and an ability to make defenders miss. Their collective route running is solid, and they have more experience (albeit, only slightly more) than UK's young secondary.
Kentucky must not give too much space to the receivers, instead, physicality seems to be called for.
Meyer will use Demps in a very similar way that UK uses Locke as a pass catcher out of the backfield. It's an excellent way to get Demps in space, where he is the most dangerous man in the SEC due to his incredible speed.
** Florida's Chris Rainey is not expected to play after being suspended by Meyer after his arrest for stalking. Rainey, in two games this season, had four carries for 16 yards (4.0 ypc), and six catches for 34 yards (5.7 ypr) and one touchdown.
After only three games, Florida is already boasting a +7 in the turnover department -- 10, that's right, 10 interceptions and two forced fumbles. Leading the way in the Gator secondary is ...
Strong safety Ahmad Black: 5-9, 190 lb senior -- A returning starter, Black leads the SEC with three picks, and leads the Gators with 24 tackles.
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins: 5-11, 184 lb junior -- Another returning starter, Jenkins has executed four pass breakups and two interceptions on the year, making him the No. 1 pass defender in the SEC. He also has 2.0 tackles for loss.
Cornerback Jeremy Brown: 5-10, 184 lb sophomore -- Brown, the No. 3 pass defender in the league, has three pass breakups and two interceptions.
Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline will face his toughest challenge this year. The Gator secondary is experienced, fast, and obviously well-versed in the pick. Hartline has been excellent this season at taking care of the ball, e.g. throwing the ball away, instead of forcing the issue, something that must continue today if the Cats have any chance at the monumental upset.
Linebacker Jonathan Bostic: 6-1, 238 lb sophomore -- Bostic is tied for second in the SEC with two interceptions, to go along with 19 tackles.
Linebacker Brandon Hicks: 6-2, 228 lb senior -- Hicks has recorded 8.0 sacks during his outstanding Florida career, with 1.5 of those coming this year.
Linebacker A.J. Jones: 6-1, 226 lb senior -- A returning starter, Jones has made 13 tackles, with 1.0 tackles for loss and one pass-breakup.
Florida's collective linebacker corps poses a huge problem for the Cats and their running game. All of the Gator backers are quick, and able to reach the corners. UK will be severely challenged in their attempt to establish the running game and own the clock.
Defensive end Justin Trattou: 6-4, 255 lb senior -- Trattou, another sack master, has recorded 7.5 sacks in his career, but only .5 this season.
Defensive end Duke Lemmens: 6-3, 250 sophomore -- Lemmens has recorded eight tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, one sack, and a team-leading two quarterback hurries.
Quick-Hit Gator Team Stats
Florida is averaging 168.3 rushing yards per game (4.4 ypc), Gator opponents are averaging only 92.3 yards on the ground ... The Gators are averaging 150.7 yards passing, Gator opponents are averaging 184.3, but have completed only 51 of 100 passing (51.0%) ... Florida is averaging 319.0 yards of total offense, while holding their opponents to 276.7 ... Florida has converted 16 of 39 third down tries (41.0%), their opponents are converting third downs at only 28.0% (11-40) ... The Gators have scored on 11 of 13 red zone trips (84.6%), while their opposition have converted only 6 of 8 red zone scoring opportunities ... Florida has scored a touchdown in 10 of 13 red zone opportunities (76.9%), and have held their opponents to only two touchdowns in eight tries (25.0%).
Kentucky Quick-Hit Individual Stats
UK running back Derrick Locke leads the SEC with 372 rushing yards on 61 carries (6.1 ypc); Locke has also caught eight passes for 60 yards (7.5 ypr) ... Locke is No. 3 in the SEC in all-purpose yardage, averaging 166.7 yards per game; UK wide out Randall Cobb is fourth in the league in all-purpose yards with 145.3 yards per game ... Cobb leads the Cats with 12 receptions, good for 160 yards (13.3 ypr) and two touchdowns; Cobb has nine carries for 108 yards (12.0 ypc) and one touchdown ... Quarterback Mike Hartline has completed 54 of 75 passes (a much improved 72.0%) for 680 yards (a much improved 12.6 yards per completion), five touchdowns, and zero interceptions ... UK receivers La'Rod King, Matt Roark, Chris Matthews (playing with a sore thumb), and tight end Jordan Aumiller have combined to make 30 catches for 447 yards (14.9 ypr) and three touchdowns ... Punter Ryan Tydlacka leads the SEC with a 48.2 yard punt average on eight punts ... Linebacker Danny Trevathan (who will sit out the first quarter due to an off-field issue -- not good, not good at all -- will be playing with a cast on his broken left hand today) is second in the SEC with 6.0 tackles for loss, and fifth in the SEC with 25.0 tackles.
Keys to Victory
- UK must take care of the ball and establish the ground game (against a stacked Gator line) to have any chance against Florida tonight.
- Stopping, or at least slowing down the impressive Gator ground game is another factor in UK winning.
- Field position will be another important factor, and with both teams employing tremendous kick returners in the form of Gator Jeffery Demps, and UK's Cobb and Locke, kick coverage will be vital.
- Scoring early -- The Gators have yet to score a first quarter (offensive) touchdown this season, so Kentucky getting that early score, or hey, maybe even two early scores, could go a long way in setting the tone of the game, and quieting the crowd.
- Finally, score more points. It's just that simple, but something that hasn't been done since Reagan was dropping bombs on Libya.
Thanks for reading and Go Cats!