Can UK avoid KO?

Cats can't afford mistakes against Gators

ccosby@herald-leader.comSeptember 22, 2009 

The current University of Florida football juggernaut reminds you a lot of when Mike Tyson was in his heyday. One or two mistakes, and you can find yourself on the canvas before you can blink an eye.

Kentucky found itself on the wrong end of a couple of early Florida left hooks in last year's game, and the results weren't pretty.

The Cats went to Gainesville feeling pretty good about themselves, fresh off a thrilling 21-20 win over Arkansas that improved their record to 5-2.

But the Gators came out and blocked UK's first two punts deep in Wildcat territory to set up two short touchdown drives that gave them a 14-0 lead before many of the tailgaters could settle into their seats. It was 28-0 at the end of the first quarter, 42-3 at halftime, and 63-5 in the end.

"That was the worst loss I've ever had in my life," sophomore receiver Randall Cobb said. "All through high school, middle school, Pop Warner; I've never lost a game like that. I'm used to beating teams like that."

Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said his team needs to find a way to stay on its feet and avoid the early haymaker, then see about taking it the distance.

"This is a game that we've got to hang around in," Brooks said. "We can't be getting knocked out of the box like we did early last year. Once that truck starts going downhill, it's loaded with rocks, and it will crush you. You need to hang around and not get a lot of separation. Whatever that takes to stay in the game, we have to find a way to do it."

Cobb said the team will have to show more gumption than it did when Florida hit early in last year's game.

"Last year, that was an example of putting your head down and taking the beating, and that's what we did," Cobb said. "We're probably going to have some adversity in this year's game. That's going to be the biggest thing. If we get behind and guys start putting their heads down, that's going to be a killer."

Kentucky's play in the third quarter of the Louisville game resembled the Florida meltdown. The Cats turned it over on three straight possessions and ran just four plays the entire period, which allowed U of L to overcome a 17-7 halftime deficit and take a lead early in the fourth before UK rallied for a 31-27 win.

If UK has a stretch like that against the Gators this week, we could be in for a repeat of last season's stinker. Louisville got only 10 points off UK's three third-quarter turnovers, but mistakes would be the kiss of death against a team like Florida.

"We won't stand a chance," senior offensive lineman Christian Johnson said. "You can't beat Florida and make mistakes. One of the things that separates them from other teams is that they capitalize on mistakes. Against Louisville, we made mistakes, and they wouldn't capitalize, and against other teams you may make a mistake and they wouldn't capitalize. Against Florida, we make a mistake and they're going to score."

Tennessee Coach Lane Kiffin talked a bunch of off-season smack about Florida Coach Urban Meyer and the Gators, and while many expected Florida to cover the 30-point spread last week, the Vols hung in there and made it respectable, losing 23-13. Brooks doesn't think that will do the Cats any favors.

"Seems like we always get 'em when they're mad," Brooks said. "Last year we got them (two games) after they were beaten by Ole Miss, and now they didn't light up the scoreboard (against Tennessee) like they're accustomed to lighting it up, so I'm sure they're going to want to come in here and show everybody their offense is still explosive."

While Kiffin popped off and lived to tell about it, the Cats are maintaining a low profile when discussing the Gators this week. Even senior tailback Alfonso Smith, who's never afraid to speak his mind, was low key.

"It's Florida that we're playing," he said. "I've got to be careful what I say. They are a good team. I don't want to give them any bulletin board material to get them fired up and have another Tim Tebow speech."

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