Analysis

A double headache for Wildcats

After Florida comes Alabama

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 28, 2009 

John Clay

You knew this would be brutal.

Florida, Alabama, back-to-back.

Before the season, you looked at Kentucky's football schedule and saw the Gators and Crimson Tide on consecutive Saturdays and thought, is this some kind of joke?

After UK was again overwhelmed by Florida, this time 41-7, on Saturday, tight end Ross Bogue was asked if this was "gut-check time?"

"It's a reality check," said the senior. "It's the SEC. We've started playing in the SEC. We have Alabama up next, and we know they're the (third-ranked) team in the nation, and one of the best defenses in the nation. So it's time to step it up."

Florida is very, very good.

Alabama might be better.

A check of the Sunday morning NCAA stats shows that Urban Meyer's Gators are fourth in the nation in total defense. Nick Saban's Crimson Tide is second.

(No. 1? North Carolina State, led by former UK defensive coordinator Mike Archer.)

Florida is No. 18 in defense against the run. Alabama is No. 2, right behind Oklahoma.

"They were playing at a totally different speed than we were," said UK Coach Rich Brooks of the Gators.

Alabama may play at a totally different physical level. If the Gators can fly right by you, the Crimson Tide will stand right in front and punch you in the mouth.

Ask Arkansas. Bobby Petrino's team dropped 41 points on Georgia two weeks ago. Saturday, in Tuscaloosa, the Razorbacks managed just one touchdown and 235 total yards. Strong-armed quarterback Ryan Mallett threw the football 35 times. He completed 12.

Oh, did we mention that Alabama's 18th in the nation in pass efficiency defense?

And, oh, did we mention that the Alabama offense suddenly turned big-play Saturday, scoring on an 80-yard pass, a 52-yard run and a 50-yard trick play?

Bama quarterback Greg McElroy was 9-for-9 through the air in the second half against the Razorbacks for 188 yards and two touchdowns.

Not even Tim Tebow has done that.

"When you don't believe you can come in and win the game, you drop passes, you don't do the things you've been coached to do, you don't do the things you normally do," Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino told the Tuscaloosa News after the game. "We didn't play the way we're capable of playing and that's on me."

That could easily describe Kentucky's play Saturday night.

Can the Cats beat the Tide? The odds are long. But Brooks' team can certainly play harder and better than it did Saturday against Florida, when the Cats appeared jittery and intimidated in a fiasco of a first quarter that saw the Gators lead 31-0 after the first 15 minutes.

"We have got to get better," said Steve Brown, UK's defensive coordinator. "We can't afford to make the mistakes that we made and want to accomplish the goals that we've set out for ourselves."

"I still believe we're a good football team, even though tonight we didn't look like it," said Brooks on Saturday. "We're going to get it right. We have a chance to have a very good year."

Even if Kentucky is a good football team, beating Alabama might be too much to ask.

Competing with Alabama is not.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226, or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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