Every school has some embarrassing facts about one or more of their athletic teams, usually in the form of streaks against foes that have gone on too long. But maybe nobody in the SEC has as many embarrassing streaks as Kentucky Wildcats football. Kentucky's next foe, the Florida Gators, own one of those streaks -- 24 games and counting.
Kentucky comes into this game off a pretty bad loss at home to their major in-state rivalry, Louisville. The loss was surely bad enough on its own merits, but the way in which the Wildcats lost, managing only 35 net yards rushing, is what is driving many of the Big Blue Faithful crazy. Kentucky lost a lot at the skill positions this year, but with all the plaudits thrown at UK's offensive line pre-season, the lack of rushing is particularly galling.
Against that backdrop, Florida comes calling on Saturday, bringing with it the #1 rushing defense in the entire country. That's right, the #1 rushing defense does not belong to Alabama or LSU or Stanford, but to the Gators. Combined with Kentucky's #92 rushing attack, that looks like a recipe for disaster in Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.
Pessimism is certainly the order of the day in the Big Blue Nation right now, and blowing sunshine up people's backside isn't going to relieve the headache caused by losing to a detested foe at home. In spite of that, Kentucky does have a chance in this game to upset the Gators, even if most won't believe it.
Florida is coming in on a high right now, having beaten Tennessee convincingly in the Swamp and playing well on both sides of the football in doing so. So what can Kentucky do to have a chance to defeat this powerful SEC team after that pathetic performance against Louisville last week? Here are some suggestions:
- Throw the football first, and most. Florida may be the best rushing defense in the land, but their passing defense is only good at #33. Tyler Bray of Tennessee threw for 288 yards against the Gators, so it should be possible to move the ball through the air.
- Get off to a good start. The importance of getting off to a good start cannot be underestimated. With a home crowd at their back, Kentucky needs to exploit that and get going early.
- Win the turnover battle. Florida is 76th in the nation in turnover margin at -.33. If Kentucky can get a turnover or two, this game could become at least competitive.
- Mix up the playcalling. Kentucky has to run the football, but if UK can become unpredictable playcalling again, it will force Florida to think twice about stacking the box.
- Utilize the pass out of the backfield. Kentucky's backs have a total of 5 receptions. The last few years, UK's running backs were always among the leading receivers -- Derrick Locke had 34 receptions last year alone, and Donald Russell and Raymond Sanders had 30 between them.
- Give Morgan Newton time to throw. At #52 in sacks, Florida isn't crushing a lot of quarterbacks. Kentucky's line needs to give him time to make reads and get the ball out.
- Throw the ball downfield. Last week, Florida's DB's committed a ton of pass interference penalties in their own stadium, almost all of them on deep routes. You have to figure that UK will have a slightly friendlier whistle, so go deep early and often and test those DB's.
- Get penetration on defense. I say this knowing full well that the largely freshman o-line of Louisville largely shoved UK's d-line all over the field. But Rick Minter is highly motivated to win this game, and I think that augers well for defensive intensity.
I know most of you don't think a win against Florida is possible after UK's performance so far this season, and I can't blame you for holding that view. All I can say is that I am not giving up on this football team, and if you want to, well, go right ahead. But these guys are going to play hard, and I think that when they suit up for battle, the deserve more than a "if we only had a coach" lament. So if that's all you've got, take it to the Fanposts.
Let's get behind this team. They want to win, and they can if Florida comes in a bit cocky and Kentucky is sufficiently angry from the results from last week, and they certainly should be that. So let's get over last week and get ready to end a streak that is crying out to be ended. If we can't beat Florida in a coaching transition, I don't like to think about our chances of beating them in the future.