Fans believed, but Cats did not

Gators clearly intimidated UK

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 27, 2009 

John Clay

The discouraging part was that Kentucky looked intimidated.

Before its first official snap against defending national champion Florida, UK had committed an illegal-motion penalty and a false-start penalty.

Two timeouts were needlessly burned because of confusion. There was another blocked punt. All in the first quarter. Most in the first half of the first quarter.

Instead of coming out fighting, the Cats came out flinching.

Yes, Florida is the defending BCS national champion. Yes, Florida is the No. 1-ranked team in the country, as the Gators proved by rocketing to a 31-point first quarter lead and whipping the not-so-Wildcats 41-7 at Commonwealth Stadium.

But for the first 15 minutes, Kentucky not only looked like it didn't belong on the same field with the Gators, it looked like it didn't believe it belonged on the same field with the Gators.

First-quarter stat: Florida outgained Kentucky 223 to minus-1.

"I felt like I hadn't coached a down in my life, the way we came out and played those first 15 minutes at home," said Rich Brooks, the Kentucky coach.

It is true that many, this writer included, believed that despite all those flu reports from Gainesville, the Gators would come to Commonwealth with something to prove after a lackluster 23-13 win over trash-talking Tennessee a week ago.

But didn't Kentucky have something to prove, as well? Didn't the Cats want to show they were much better than last year's 63-5 fiasco against Florida in The Swamp? Didn't the Cats want to prove they were finally ready for SEC prime time, ready to crack that glass ceiling and climb into the league's upper echelon?

"We wanted to show we were a top-tier team in this league," said Joker Phillips, UK's head coach for offense. "We showed we're still a bottom-tier team."

If few picked the Cats to beat the Gators, surely more than a few believed the Cats could be competitive with the Gators.

"On a pretty big stage, we had a chance to show we could compete with Florida," said Brooks, "and we didn't really compete."

Not only was this Florida's 23rd straight win over Kentucky, it was an easy win over Kentucky.

"We were hesitant," said tight end Ross Bogue. "I don't know why, but we were hesitant."

You can make the case that after being knocked out 31-0 in the first quarter, Kentucky put together a respectable effort the rest of the night. But you could also argue that, at least psychologically, the Gators pulled off the throttle a bit after topping last year's 28-0 first-quarter lead at Florida Field.

"We played with a little more energy in the second half," said Brooks, "but I'm sure they lost a little of their edge, as well."

Truth is Florida continues to have a big edge, one that goes beyond even Tim Tebow. More players. Better players. Still much more speed. For two years in a row now, Kentucky has been overwhelmed by that speed.

And you have to wonder if by now there isn't something psychological at play here, as well, with the players, the coaches. Lack of focus by the players. Lack of preparation by the coaches.

"That's just coaching," said Steve Ortmayer, UK's special-teams coach about Florida blocking its third Kentucky punt in two years. "That's just bad coaching."

"It was just an absolute horrible job by me getting my team ready to play to start the game," lamented Brooks.

The good news is Kentucky has a second chance next Saturday. Third-ranked Alabama comes to town. If Bama is not quite as good as the Gators, it isn't far behind.

But if Kentucky is going to stay on the field with Nick Saban's Crimson Tide, it's going to have to believe it can stay on the field.

Intimidation not allowed.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-859-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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