Cats look to avoid early KO vs. Gators

Florida comes out swinging against UK

ccosby@herald-leader.comSeptember 21, 2010 

When it comes to Kentucky, the Florida football team has been like Mike Tyson in his heyday: come out early, land a couple of big blows, and the party's over.

In 2007, the Gators blocked two first-quarter punts that led to a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into a game that would end up a 63-5 rout.

Last season Urban Meyer's squad scored an early touchdown off another blocked punt and led 31-0 at the end of the opening period. That game ended up 41-7.

This season, the Cats have to find a way to be Buster Douglas and withstand those early Florida knockout blows, hang around and find a way to pull the upset late.

"Starts have hurt us," UK Coach Joker Phillips said. "It's important for us to start fast, it's important for us to play 60 minutes. This has got to be our best football game. We've got to play four quarters, and it's got to be our best game in all three phases."

UK senior tailback Derrick Locke expects a close game as long as the Cats can avoid digging an early hole.

"If we don't get blocked punts and all that weird stuff, we can go toe-to-toe with them," Locke said. "If we come out and get two blocked punts and are down 21-0, we'll lose. It's hard to overcome that. You get a momentum shift like that, the game's over. That's what happened the last two years, and we definitely don't want that to happen this year."

Phillips probably got plenty of ammunition from UK's slow start against Akron last Saturday, when the Cats needed two touchdowns late in the second quarter to pull away from a 6-3 lead.

"You cannot come out not being focused, not being intense and not being able to match their speed," Phillips said. "If you do that, you'll be down 14 points in a heartbeat. You'll be down 21. We've been there. We've been down 28 in the first quarter. If you allow the things in the Swamp to intimidate you, you can be down 28 points, no question about that. We can't let the game get out of hand. We can't be sloppy like we were last week."

Florida hasn't been the offensive juggernaut it's been the past couple of seasons and has struggled getting out of the gate in 2010. The Gators have yet to scratch the scoreboard in the opening quarter in three games and have been outscored 13-0.

But back in 2008, Florida only scored a combined seven first-quarter points in its first three games against Hawaii, Mississippi and Arkansas and still went off for a 28-0 first-quarter lead against the Cats.

Some UK players have admitted they've been intimidated on past trips to the Swamp. But Phillips said an off-season that focused on mental toughness should have the Cats in better shape to deal with the elements on Saturday.

Strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver put the team through a series of "gassers" — sprinting up and back across the field (53.4 yards) four times. After starting at eight gassers, the team eventually worked its way up to 26.

"At eight gassers, I was thinking we were going to get some guys running out the door, quitting, leaving on us," Phillips said. "They didn't think they could do eight, but at 14 they were still standing. I think that made them feel good about themselves. And then at 26 they were feeling good about themselves. I think that has a lot to do with your mental toughness, and we had guys feeling good about where they were."

Hines, Allen doubtful

The Wildcats will likely be without two starters for the Florida game. Junior left guard Stuart Hines suffered a sprained ankle against Akron, and fullback Moncell Allen strained his hamstring.

Phillips said junior Billy Joe Murphy, who usually plays tackle, would move into the lineup at Hines' spot. The offense will go to more two-tight end sets to fill the void left by Allen.

Locke gives Demps props

Locke, who has been timed below a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, has never been known to concede anything when it comes to speed. But he gave it up to Florida running back Jeff Demps, the defending national champion in the 100 meters who is widely regarded as the fastest player in college football.

When asked if he'd like to race Demps, Locke said, "In the 100, no," Locke said. "40, 50, 60 I'll hold my own."

When it was pointed out that it was the first time he had ever suggested that he might not be faster than somebody, Locke added, "I'm smart, now. I ain't going to come out here and talk senseless. He's one of the fastest guys in the country in the 100. I honestly think I can beat him in the 40, but around 60 meters is where he starts catching his speed."

No black jerseys

Phillips was asked a question about Locke and made reference to how the senior often comes to his offense and makes suggestions. One of the things Locke and other Wildcats have pushed for is black jerseys, but Phillips said at this point there are no plans for UK to wear black.

"We're blue and white, I'm a Kentuckian through and through and all I've seen is blue and white," he said.

12:21 kickoff for Ole Miss

Kentucky's Oct. 2 game at Mississippi will kickoff at 12:21 as the SEC Network Game of the Week.

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