The No. 15 Florida Gators (3-0) travel out of the Sunshine State for the first time in 2011 to take on the Kentucky Wildcats (2-1) in a 7:00 contest televised by ESPN. The Gators enter the game coming off a 33-23 win over a good Tennessee Vol squad, in a game Florida led at one time 30-7. Blessed with tremendous team speed, particularly at the running back spot, the Gators will severely challenge the Kentucky defense's ability to close gaps, and find the ball carrier before he gains momentum. UK, on the other hand, is facing a Florida team which just might be looking into the future instead of taking care of business in the present -- In two "ginormously" big games, the Gators tangle with No. 3 Alabama and No. 2 LSU in back-to-back showdowns beginning next week.
Battle of Statistics (SEC rank in parenthesis)
Scoring: UF 37.7 (5), UK 19.3 (12)
Points Allowed: UF 8.7 (2), UK 13.3 (5)
Total Offense: UF 442.3 (4), UK 274.7 (11)
Passing Yards: UF 232.0 (5), UK 155.3 (10)
Rushing Yards: UF 210.3 (4), UK 119.3 (10)
Total Yards Allowed: UF 209.3 (3), UK 314.7 (7)
Pass Yards Allowed: UF 178.7 (8), UK 178.0 (7)
Rush Yards Allowed: UF 30.7 (1), UK 136.7 (6)
3rd Down Conversion: UF 42.9% (t5), UK 31.0% (10)
Opp. 3rd Down Conversion: UF 20.0% (1), UK 35.4% (8)
Red Zone Scoring %: UF 93.8 (3), UK 62.5 (12)
Sacks By: UF 5 (t3), UK 6 (2)
Sacks Against: UF 1 (1), UK 12 (12)
Penalty Yards Per Game: UF 90.0 (12), UK 33.3 (2)
Who The Gators Have Chomped
Florida Atlantic -- 41-3
UAB -- 39-0
Tennessee -- 33-23
The Gator Glory Boys
Although once (and often) maligned Florida quarterback John Brantley is playing very well this season (47-62 for 637 yards and two touchdowns), the Gator offensive attack is centered on their two speed burner running backs, seniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Rainey, a mighty-mite at 5'9," leads the Gators in both rushing (24 carries for 306 yards and two touchdowns; 6.4 yards per carry), receiving (11 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns; 19.5 yards per reception), and is also quite the terrifying punt returner (three returns for a 14.3 average and one touchdown). He also lit up Tennessee last week with 108 yards rushing, and 104 receiving yards. Rainey's near-twin running mate, Demps, also a little guy at 5'7," has not had as many touches as his fellow tail back, but he has produced when the ball is in his hands, accounting for 163 rushing yards on 24 carries (6.4 ypc) and two touchdowns, and 68 receiving yards on eight catches (8.5 ypr).
Florida offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, knows how to take advantage of his talent, and UK fans can be sure they'll see a healthy dose of Rainey and Demps tonight at Commonwealth Stadium. Their combination of speed, and the ability to make ankle-breading cuts, make the duo two of the most potent offensive weapons in the SEC, and a nightmare for defensive coordinators. Rainey and Demps will severely challenge the ability of UK's defense to quickly close gaps, not allowing either Gator to gain running momentum, and when they do get loose, to pursue (with good angles) until the pursuit is over.
Just how dominant have Rainey and Demps been? Together, the two have accounted for 751 of Florida's 1,327 yards gained on the season, or 56.6%. That is certainly an impressive number, but when head coach Will Muschamp (former coach-in-waiting and defensive coordinator at Texas) chooses to give the terribly dynamic duo a rest, the Kentucky defense will be wise to remember the unforgettable, "Touchdown" Trey Burton. It was Burton, as a freshman last season, who scored six touchdowns against an unsuspecting UK defense, leading Florida to a 48-14 pasting of the 'Cats in The Swamp. With his performance, Burton rushed and caught his away into UK football lore, simultaneously causing an entire fan base to ask the person next to them, "Who the heck is that guy and why does he seem impervious to tacklers wearing blue and white?"
This year Burton has continued to be a dual threat athlete, rushing for 49 yards on 10 carries (4.9 ypc) and two touchdowns, to go along with catching five passes for 49 yards (9.8 ypr) and one touchdown. That's 15 touches and three touchdowns for Burton on the season. Uh, he might be a guy UK's defense needs to keep at least one pair of eyes on tonight.
There are two other Gator receivers who will challenge the 'Cats tonight, beginning with senior wide out Deonte Thompson. Thompson, like most of the Gator roster, is blessed with great speed, making him capable of stretching the UK defense, thus creating room for the potent Florida ground attack. On the season, Thompson is third on the team with seven catches, good for 93 yards (13.3 ypr). Another dangerous down-field weapon in the Gator arsenal is sophomore receiver Andre Dubose, who has caught five passes this year, good for 83 yards (an impressive 16.6 ypr).
Defensively, the Gators are just as competent as their high scoring offense. One look at the Florida team stats listed above, and one sees a troubling number: 30.7, as in the average number of rushing yards the Gators are giving up this year. A number which leads the nation. The other number Randy Sanders and Joker Phillips have been staring at this week is 209.3. As in the number of yards per game UF is giving up. A number which ranks seventh in the nation.
Licking their chops at the thought of facing a sometimes anemic UK attack are Florida linebackers Jonathan Bostic (a 6'1" 243lb junior) and 6'0" 230lb sophomore Jelani Jenkins. Bostic leads the Gators with 16 tackles, and is second on the team with 3.0 tackles for loss (to go along with one sack). Jenkins, lightening quick by linebacker standards, is second on the squad with 13 tackles, and leads the team with four pass breakups. In the Florida secondary, UK's receivers must account for 5'10" safety Matt Elam, who leads the Gators with 11 solo tackles, while also forcing one fumble and intercepting one pass.
Since 2006, the beginning of UK's five straight bowl seasons, never have the 'Cats been so roundly figured as certain losers as they are today. After all, Florida's defensive strength, their rush defense, uncomfortably corresponds with UK's most glaring weakness, the 'Cats' run game. Additionally, Florida's offensive focal point is their tremendous running attack, while last week UK's rush defense was deemed porous at the hands (and legs) of rookie UofL running back Dominique Brown, who scampered his way to 91 yards on 14 carries (6.5 ypc). So what is a head coach to do? How can the 'Cats score enough points to compete with the Gators, a team nearly everyone predicts to score at least 35 points or so against the 'Cats?
How about ...
And really, what do the 'Cats have to lose?
In UK's two exclusively no-huddle possessions against Louisville last week, quarterback Morgan Newton completed nine of 13 passes for 92 yards (69.2% completion rate versus his non-no-huddle completion rate of 53.1), one touchdown, and zero interceptions (versus his four non-no-huddle picks on the year) -- And with the emergence of junior receiver E.J. Fields, who caught seven passes last week, six for first downs, Newton has another target to throw to, another offensive weapon to utilize. The UK ground game came alive as well, rushing for 29 yards on three carries, minus three-yards due to a Newton sack (8.7 ypc as opposed to UK's non-no-huddle rushing average of 3.3).
Although UK got only seven points out of their two no-huddle possessions, under non-end-game circumstances, in UK's final no-huddle series the 'Cats would have kicked a 35-yard field goal on 4th & 6 late in the fourth quarter, instead of going for the first down. If that happens, the 'Cats would have earned 10 points in their two no-huddle possessions, a rate of scoring astronomically higher than their season average.
As 'Cat fans got a glimpse of last Saturday, the no-huddle creates a couple of opportunities for an offense: a) it allows the offense to take advantage of mismatches in the defense because the defense is not able to effectively change personnel, b) it can create a rhythm within the offense, an important factor when evaluating a team's offensive success.
But, in order for an offense to really excel in the no-huddle, the quarterback must be quick in reading the defense laid out in front of him. For without reading the defense, and reading it quickly, the unit will have time to change personnel based on down, distance, and tendencies. So the quarterback has to quickly communicate to his teammates, conveying the audible (if necessary), or calling one of two (or three) pre-set plays. In other words, it's the quarterback's call, and it has to be made quickly.
Newton and the UK offense did a very nice job with the no-huddle against UofL, about that there is very little room for debate, but the Florida Gators are a different, much more skilled foe (no offense intended, victorious Cards), so there is a definite level of risk that goes along with going with the no-huddle.
But really, what do the 'Cats have to lose?
For those who listened to Wildcat Wednesday this week (aka mom), you heard me pick the Gators in a rout, 42-3, but I'm going to amend that prediction by saying Florida 38, UK 13. Still a loss, but not a Spurrier-type skunking.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats! Prove me wrong ... please.