Urban Meyer has said that his goal at Florida was to field the fastest football team in America.
If you ask folks around the Kentucky camp, the Gators' coach's mission has been accomplished.
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"I would not argue with that," said Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks, whose team visits fifth-ranked Florida on Saturday. "I would not argue with that at all. They've got as much speed on defense and offense as any team I've seen."
"I don't dispute that at all," UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. "They are very fast and explosive, a really good football team with a lot of weapons."
Thanks to that speed, Florida has come light years defensively in the past year. But the Gators are still known for their rapid-fire skill-position players. Florida has a dozen players (seven on offense, five on defense) who have clocked a 40-yard-dash time of 4.4 seconds or less, and those same players have accounted for 20 of the Gators' 29 touchdowns this season.
Receiver Percy Harvin has touchdown catches of 43 and 70 yards; running back Jeff Demps has TD runs of 62, 48 and 42 yards and is averaging 13.3 yards per carry; return specialist Brandon James has punt return scores of 74 and 78 yards; running back Chris Rainey has a 74-yard TD run, and receiver Louis Murphy has a 48-yard TD catch.
"They're so fast," UK defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "We've just got to stay in our gaps and not give up big plays. They've got such a big-play offense with Harvin, Demps, and Rainey and those guys. They're just fast. We've got to contain their speed. That's a main focus of ours. We've got to keep everything bundled up because they thrive off the big runs and long passes."
While the Gators don't line up in many power-running, I-formation sets, Brown said it would be a big mistake to label them a finesse team.
"They're not a power team in the traditional sense, but they're so fast in what they do that they come at you powerfully," Brown said. "They're not an Alabama as far as style of play and what they run, but they'll come out and hit you in the mouth. They come downhill. It's like a bullet. They're coming so fast that it hurts. These guys can fly."
Meyer has been impressed with what he's seen of the Kentucky defense, which leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense and pass-efficiency defense. He also called Trevard Lindley and David Jones the best set of cornerbacks his team has faced all season. He added that while the Wildcats' scheme isn't complicated, they run it with extreme efficiency.
"A lot of guys throw the kitchen sink at you; these guys don't," Meyer said. "They're very fundamental. They don't give you the shots (downfield), they're going to play how they play coverage-wise and force you to methodically work the ball down the field, which is something we haven't been great at, so it's a heck of a challenge."
The Cats would have their hands full stopping the Gators even at full speed, but they'll be going down to Gainesville with several defensive regulars banged up. Defensive tackle Myron Pryor, who has been the most dominant lineman this season, is out with a high ankle sprain. Five other starters (linebackers Braxton Kelley, Micah Johnson and Johnny Williams; cornerback David Jones and free safety Marcus McClinton) have missed practice time this week with various ailments.
Lumpkin will slide into Pryor's spot alongside junior Corey Peters, with sophomore Shane McCord and redshirt freshmen Antwane Glenn and Luke McDermott expected to provide depth.
Juniors Sam Maxwell, Michael Schwindel and Mikhail Mabry, along with freshman Danny Trevathan filled in for the injured linebackers in practice. Brown knows several youngsters will have to be ready to go against the Gators.
"It's usually pretty warm in The Swamp, so we're going to have to get some guys in there," Brown said. "We've just got to get them ready. They'll get their baptism. No excuses. We're going to go down there and battle and see what happens."
Brown is high on the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Trevathan, a native of Leesburg, Fla., who has drawn comparisons to former Wildcats linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
"He's going to be a heck of a player for us," Brown said. "He's a Florida boy. He's a fast kid who can run. We need to get more guys like him."
Guys like you find on the fastest team in America.
Injury update: Johnson practiced Wednesday and should be available to play Saturday, Brooks said. Kelley is still questionable to doubtful. Williams and Jones also practiced, and Brooks said he'll see how they feel on Thursday before making a decision about their availability. Ditto for McClinton, who participated in half of practice for the second straight day. Brooks said there's also no decision yet on right tackle Justin Jeffries, who's recovering from a knee injury.