Cats good, just not good enough for Gators

Coach says the talent is there

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 27, 2010 

Joker Phillips was firm.

"Our guys were not intimidated."

The Kentucky football coach was in a sauna of a visiting media interview room, in the bowels of The Swamp. His team just lost 48-14 to ninth-ranked Florida. It was the Gators' 24th straight win over the Wildcats. It was Phillips' first loss as a head coach.

Press conferences for the losing team are a different animal. Often, for the media, they are better exercises in explanations. Winning coaches have less to say. They put in a plan. They had confidence in the plan. The plan worked. Losing coaches, it's the other way around. They put in a plan. They had confidence in the plan. But the plan didn't work. Please explain.

"I don't think we got out-athleted," said Phillips in response to a question.

Most of his answers were of that ilk. The difference was not so much Florida's superior talent and speed and skill, but a "dumb" mistake here, a big play there, a little error, a bad zone drop, a momentary loss of poise.

"Our guys fought," said Phillips.

Despite the outcome, the same-old, same-old where the Florida series is concerned, Phillips still thinks he has a good team. He seemed in protective mode late Saturday night, unwilling to say his team wasn't ready for the environment or the atmosphere. He said the Cats had followed a formula — limit turnovers, outrush the opponents — to win their final three conference road games a year ago. This time, the formula wasn't followed.

Of course, this is college football. Teams are never the same. It's why Nick Saban gets hot under the collar when the media says Alabama is the defending national champs. Last year's team was the champion. This year's team is new, even with some of the old players. Same for Kentucky. Last year's edition had Corey Peters, Trevard Lindley, Micah Johnson, Zipp Duncan, etc.

But last year's Florida had Tim Tebow, Aaron Hernandez and a boat-load of players now in the NFL. This year's Gators are younger, less experienced, and frankly, probably, not as good.

That Kentucky couldn't beat the Gators, failed by 34 points, is not proof the Cats aren't good. Just not good enough. They weren't good enough Saturday night. Kentucky football has closed a lot of gaps the past five years. This isn't one of them. Florida is just better. Much better.

Key sequence: Start of the second half. A well-executed trick play had given the Cats a little life. Randall Cobb hit Chris Matthews with a pass off a fake field goal to make it 21-7. Florida got the ball to start the second half. Phillips said UK needed a three-and-out. Instead, Florida executed an 11-play scoring drive. Ball game.

So it's on to the next ball game. Ole Miss isn't Florida. But the Rebels played much better Saturday night, flattening Fresno State. With a new quarterback in Jeremiah Masoli, Houston Nutt's team may be finding its feet, just in time to welcome Kentucky to the grove.

When asked whether his team was "out-athleted," Phillips said it was more a matter of his team having their "eyes in the wrong place. The feet were in the wrong place."

Time now for the eyes to look straight ahead, those feet back up and running. For the 24th straight year, Florida is a better team. But Kentucky can still be a good one.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com.

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