In 2005-06, I worked as a sports psychologist with UK teams. I primarily worked with men’s basketball when Tubby Smith was coach. My area of expertise is emotional intelligence and there were two things I harped on with all teams: Emotions are contagious; and athletes cannot perform if they are fearful of making mistakes.
These notions can be applied to UK football in the game against Florida. Even though there are two separate units, offense and defense, they influence each other emotionally. So when the coach decides to protect the lead by reverting to conservative play-calling, the unspoken message is that even though the offense was playing rhythmically and effectively, they now have to play in a controlled, mechanical manner to avoid losing. This change in style may create fear of failure among the athletes.
Fear of making a mistake is toxic for performance. When the defense sees the offense fearful, it could very well translate to the defense playing similarly. Although I watched the game on TV, I observed the body language and non-verbal cues of both teams. UK players and coaches appeared fearful and panicky while Florida appeared confident and, more importantly, calm. It has always amazed me how quickly the emotional climate of a game can change.