Cats say recent road success will help in 'Swamp'

ccosby@herald-leader.comSeptember 24, 2010 

SPORTS FBC-VANDY-FLORIDA 18 OS

University of Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, better known as "The Swamp," is infamous among visiting teams for its hot conditions and hostile crowds.

GARY W. GREEN — MCT

Many a college football player has been swallowed in "The Swamp," the loud, hot and hostile home field of the University of Florida.

Peyton Manning, one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game, never could solve The Swamp, as his Tennessee teams were blown out in Gainesville in both his sophomore and senior years.

Kentucky has more than its share of brutal Swamp memories, like the 65-0 and 73-7 embarrassments of the mid-1990s and the 63-5 debacle in 2008.

UK quarterback Mike Hartline's first trip to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium didn't go so well two years ago. He was 7-for-16 passing for just 33 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown in the 58-point loss.

"It's one of the hardest environments you'll ever play in," Hartline said. "You definitely have to control your emotions and try and focus on what's happening on the field."

Hartline is more seasoned now, and he and the rest of the Wildcats feel they're in better position to keep their cool. Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips takes comfort in the fact that Kentucky showed some moxie on the road last season, winning night games in tough environments at Auburn and Georgia. The Cats also won at Vanderbilt a year ago, and defeated Louisville in the season opener at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Sept. 4.

"They've been on the road and had success," Phillips said. "We continue to remind them of that. They've done a lot of good things on the road. They've had total focus. It's a business trip, not a dang slumber party. We won't be visiting in each other's room and all that stuff. Our guys are there to win a ball game."

UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said he's confident that Hartline and the UK veterans will be able to handle the environment. It's the youngsters he's more worried about.

"Mike knows what to expect and knows what it's all about," Sanders. "The communication, the crowd noise, with an experienced quarterback it isn't that big of a factor. I don't have any real questions or doubts about how those guys are going to respond. It's some of the others I'm anxious to see. The guys who have played and played a lot and been to Georgia and been to Auburn, those situations, I'm completely comfortable with them. It's the ones who haven't lined up and played offense in those situations that concern me."

Hartline said he's been trying to get the young Wildcats to understand just what they'll be facing in Gainesville.

"We've been telling them how loud it will be," he said. "You can't simulate it in practice even though you try. You just have to stay focused on your job and blanket out how hard it will be. If things start to get a little crazy then just turn to the guy next to you and ask for some help."

Senior receiver Chris Matthews has never been to The Swamp and said teammates have shared some horror stories with him.

"Aaron (Boyd) told me one time he and some other guys were sitting on the bench, and a dude was hitting them on the shoulder pads and throwing stuff at them," Matthews said. "I hear it can get pretty violent down there."

Senior running back Derrick Locke was out with a season-ending knee injury in 2008 and will be making his first trip to the state of Florida, period. Locke said he's not bothered at the prospect of heckling fans.

"I'm excited just to go to Florida and see what it's like down there," Locke said. "I know we're not going to be hanging on the beach, but it'll still be good. I know the fans sit real close and talk a lot of trash, but you've just got to block all that out and stay focused. They'll be talking a lot of stuff but I'll just be laughing because I think everything is funny."

Junior receiver Randall Cobb said the players have to find a way to tune out the crowd.

"You can't have anybody play timid," he said. "You can't let the crowd psyche you out. You have to communicate and play your game."

Phillips said that the coaching staff constantly tested the manhood of the players in the off-season, and he's expecting that to pay dividends in Gainesville.

"We've been preparing for this since Jan. 6," Phillips said. "That's the type of environment that we've been training for so that none of the kids fold their tent and want to go home in the middle of a game. We challenged them in the off-season, and they had the chance to walk out and hang their heads and they didn't. You can't go down and be intimidated by atmospheres and names on jerseys or on the side of a helmet. We've just got to play Kentucky football."

Injury update

■ Phillips has ruled starting left guard Stuart Hines out for Saturday's game at No. 9 Florida with a sprained ankle.

Hines, a junior, has started 16 career games and is viewed as UK's best overall lineman. Junior Billy Joe Murphy, who has played mostly tackle in his career, will slide over to guard in Hines' absence. Senior Marcus Davis will be the first guard off the bench.

■ Senior fullback Moncell Allen (strained hamstring) will make the trip and hopes to play.

"We worked him out today and feel he's close enough that two days might help him," Phillips said.

■ Junior linebacker Danny Trevathan broke his left hand last week against Akron and will play in a cast against the Gators.

Trevathan played most of last season in a cast after breaking his wrist against Louisville, so Phillips isn't worried about it affecting his play.

Trevathan leads UK with 25 tackles.

"He should be fine," Phillips said. "He's played in a cast most of his career."

■ Senior wide receiver Chris Matthews has been in a cast this week nursing a sore thumb, but he will play without the cast against Florida.

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