Cats haven't seen speed like Gators'

Track star Demps leads nation's 'fastest team'

ccosby@herald-leader.comSeptember 20, 2010 

Freshman tailback Raymond Sanders (4), who started last week, is questionable because of an abdominal strain.

DAVID PERRY | STAFF

One of the favorite go-to phrases among college coaches is "speed of the game."

After opening the season against Louisville, Western Kentucky and Akron, the 'speed of the game' is about to go into another stratosphere for the Kentucky football team. The Wildcats travel to Gainesville this weekend to play No. 9 Florida, arguably the fastest team in America.

"I remember when (Florida Coach) Urban Meyer took the job, he said he wanted to recruit the fastest team in the country," UK Coach Joker Phillips said. "If they're not, they're definitely one of them. That's the one thing you think of when you think about Florida."

The Cats have closed the gap slightly between themselves and the Gators. Phillips said there were only a couple UK players who ran a 4.5 or better 40-yard dash when he joined Rich Brooks' staff in 2003. Now the Cats have several, including speedy youngsters Raymond Sanders and Jerrell Priester.

"Every year we try to recruit guys who have speed at their position, and not only do we have speed, we have depth with our speed at the different positions," Phillips said.

The Cats still have a lot of catching up to do to match the Gators, who feature the fastest player in college football in Jeff Demps. Demps, a track standout, ran the 100 meters in 9.96 seconds last spring to win the national championship.

Louisville and Western Kentucky had success on the ground against UK and didn't need to throw the ball deep. The Wildcats came out Saturday and stuffed Akron on the ground, but an alarming sign for Phillips and defensive coordinator Steve Brown was how many times Akron receivers got past the UK cornerbacks. The Zips had several big-play opportunities, but the passes were either dropped or off the mark.

"We put our corners on an island and we got ran past a couple times," Phillips said. "We can't get lackadaisical. We've got to stay over the top of receivers. If (Akron) had hit on a couple of those pass plays, the score could have been different."

The Florida passing game hasn't done a whole lot through three games — averaging 150.6 yards — but with a strong-armed quarterback in John Brantley and speed on the outside, you can expect the Gators to go after the UK corners.

Florida's receivers make Akron's look as though they're running in quicksand, so the Wildcat secondary will have to be on their toes.

Phillips is glad Akron came out and tested his secondary.

"We had not been challenged; teams have tried to run the ball on us," Phillips said. "(Akron) was the first time we've been challenged vertically down the field, and we expect to be challenged from here on out. We're making a huge commitment to stop the run. We have to. It's demoralizing when a team can run the football, which is going to at times leave us vulnerable at the corner position. We've just got to play with great technique and play over the top of the shoulders of receivers. It was a huge eye-opener with the Akron receivers getting by us. We'll be facing better receivers this week and a team that is known for throwing and catching the football."

Phillips also said the Wildcats have to eliminate the special-teams mistakes they've made in the past against Florida. Three blocked punts in the last two games led to early holes from which UK couldn't escape. Phillips knows the Cats have to find a way to stay competitive early.

"We have to stay in the game as long as we can," he said. "You never know what happens. We just have to go toe to toe, play with unbelievable confidence, enthusiasm and excitement and see what happens."

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