Before the season began like most people I chalked up the Kentucky-Florida game as an automatic loss. It's natural to assume an annual defeat to the Gators given UK has not defeated UF since November 15th, 1986. Sure, there have been a few close calls. In 2003 UK was beating a fringe Top 25 UF team only to fall late in the game when Jared Lorenzen threw an unfortunate interception that set up UF's go ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter and resulted in a final score of 24-21. Going back even further, in 1993, eventual Heisman winner Danny Weurffel threw a late touchdown that put UF on top and win the game 24-20. The actual taste of victory against the Gators was a very long time ago indeed. How long? Well, so long that Crocodile Dundee was the number one film in the box office, and "Amanda" by Boston was the number one music single. November 1986 was also the month that the Iran-Contra scandal went public.
Up until this week, I judged UK's chances to end the streak had improved marginally. UF had an elite defense, and their offense - while somewhat effective - was ugly. This was not a Spurrier or Meyer Era Gator Offense. Look at these stats from UF's first three games to get an idea of how night and day their offense and defense are (I've manually combined the stats from UF's first two games with the ESPN game stats from today's UF-UT game):
Now, after watching the UF-UT game, I am more hopeful that this can be the year that UK breaks the streak and finally defeats UF. I still think the game will be very tough task for UK, but what started off as a feeling of no way does UK win this game has steadily improved to the point I can at least envision a path to victory.
Avenues to Victory
My hope of an upset victory has continued to rise for several reasons. First, I believe UK's defense would have been competitive with UF's offense prior to UF losing their starting quarterback for the season.. Coaches Stoops and Elliot have familiarity with UF's personnel and Brent Pease's offensive schemes. Second, coming off a bye week should help. The team was able to heal some minor injuries, and start game planning for UF earlier, according to Stoops' remarks after Tuesday's practice. Third, UF has major turnover and penalty issues through three games and their bye week did not help alleviate those problems. Finally, after roughly adjusting for strength of schedules, I judge UK's offense and defense are nearly comparable to UT. If UK can take advantage of UF's turnovers unlike UT, and not turn the ball over themselves, UK should outperform their previous outings.
UF's new starting quarterback will be Tyler Murphy. Murphy is a redshirt junior, so I doubt starting his first conference game on the road will have much of an impact on him. After he entered the game, I didn't see UF adjust their offense much. They used Driskel in a lot of roll-out pass plays and zone reads, and seemed to do the same with Murphy as he appears ever bit as mobile as Driskel. Murphy also went for a steady 8/14 and no interceptions to his credit in a game with a total of 9 turnovers. I suspect UK's coaches will start the game with trying to make Murphy beat our defense. They'll probably attempt to confuse him with multiple looks, and also load the box to take away the run. On obvious passing situations they'll probably also assign a "spy" to Murphy who shadows his every move in case he decides to tuck the ball and run for a first down. I believe the defensive staff will start off assigning Blake McClain in this role. UF will also have speedy skill position players, and they seemed to run a lot of sweeps against UT. It'll be imperative for our defenders to keep contain and maintain their assignments. My major concern will be how our defense is performing in the second half. UF will have seen the tape against UofL, and will be tempted to play a lot of "22 Personnel" to manage the clock, protect Murphy from himself, and hope UK's defense forgets to cover tight ends on play-action a la the WKU game. UK's front seven is not deep enough to stop long offensive drives in the 4th quarter without some help. This is where the offense will need to do its part.
Honestly, I'm not wise enough to know how UK gains a tactical edge of UF's defense. Long drives can keep our defense on resting on the sideline, saving their energy for the crucial third and fourth quarters. As Coach Brown has stated repeatedly, if UK makes the routine plays, drives will be sustained and points are inevitable. Among other fundamental techniques, UK's offense will need catch the ball, grade out well on the offensive line, make a big play or two, and eliminate turnovers and penalties; however, this UF defense is so good that even if UK were to do all of those things they will still struggle barring very good field position. In short, UK's offense will have to play the best they have all season at every position. Nothing UF's opponents have done offensively has beaten their defense outside of a single offensive drive or two. UK will need to execute to their best of their abilities and just hope it's enough.
UK's chances to beat UF have risen since the beginning of the season despite UK's 1-2 record. This is the first season in 10 years that UF has been this vulnerable. We are hosting them in a CWS night game, we have a professional coaching staff, and a relatively healthy team that has improved every week. This is an opportune time to pick off the Gators, but it will be an uphill climb to earn this victory. We will learn a lot about our Wildcats this Saturday.