John Clay: Gap between UK, SEC elite widens

Gap between UK, top of SEC is only growing wider

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 25, 2011 

Joker Phillips didn't ask for it but if he did, here would be my advice.

Prepare this week as if your Kentucky Wildcats are going to play the No. 2-ranked LSU Tigers on Saturday. Follow your usual schedule, as not to tip off anyone. Go ahead and do the weekly news conference on Monday. Practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Board the charter plane for Louisiana on Friday.

When you arrive in Baton Rouge on Friday night, take your team to the best seafood restaurant in town. Order everything on the menu. Enjoy.

Then Saturday morning, inform the SEC office that your entire team has come down with one of the worst cases of food poisoning in modern memory.

Got a better plan?

Saturday night's Kentucky-Florida game at Commonwealth Stadium played out like a movie we have seen over and over again with the same exact ending. Florida scored early and often. Kentucky fell way behind. Again. Gators won 48-10. Again.

Florida came into the game ranked 15th in the latest AP poll.

LSU is ranked No. 2.

The Florida game was a home game for the Cats.

Saturday's LSU game is in the stadium affectionately known as Death Valley.

The last time UK visited LSU, back in 2006, it lost 49-0.

And now, these current Cats are coming off a 38-point home loss.

"We're 2-2," said Phillips afterward. "It's not a pretty 2-2, I can promise you that."

It goes beyond 2-2, of course. Kentucky has not been impressive in any of the first four games. There was nothing in the first three that made you think it could play with the Gators, and that was confirmed.

Let's be honest here. Those five consecutive bowl trips notwithstanding, Kentucky football is no closer to competing with the SEC big boys than they were back in 2005, the year before Rich Brooks saved his tenure by lifting the Cats up out of the conference cellar and into post-season play.

But it's fallacy to think this program has risen to the ranks where it has closed any sort of gap with the SEC elite.

Phillips disagreed, citing UK's first-half turnovers, which helped put the Cats in a 31-10 hole.

"I don't think turnovers have anything to do with talent," he said.

But given the score, Kentucky is still playing major-league catch-up in a league whose speed was exemplified Saturday night by those Florida speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, each of whom blew past blue-clad defenders practically at will.

Demps gained 157 yards, including an 84-yard TD, on just 10 carries. Rainey gained 105 yards on 15 carries. Kentucky, meanwhile, gained 299 yards total, and many of those came against second-string Gators.

It appears Kentucky's bowl streak could be in major jeopardy, and that may say more than when it went to bowl after bowl — especially when you consider that upward of 70 teams go to bowl games in these modern television-oriented football days.

Simply put, there was no comparison between Florida and Kentucky on Saturday, not in talent, certainly not in speed, and not in execution. There is a reason the Gators have now won 25 straight over Kentucky. Same as it ever was.

Not exactly. Before this streak, Florida led the football series over Kentucky 20-17. Now it's 45-17. That gap is widening.

Kentucky's football motto for this year was "Rise" but, to a disgruntled bordering on apathetic fan base, the only thing that has risen is the ticket prices.

The road doesn't get any easier because now the Cats go on the road. In two weeks, it's defending SEC East champ South Carolina in Columbia. This week it's LSU in Baton Rouge.

Who knows, maybe Les Miles' team will be tired from spanking West Virginia in Morgantown on Saturday. No one could blame Miles' team for being overconfident, that's for sure. And LSU fans don't like day games, much less a morning game, with the SEC Network tilt scheduled for an 11:21 a.m. CDT kickoff.

I suppose a cancellation is out of the question?

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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