UK Football

As Gators come to town, does Kentucky football still believe?

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said Monday his team looked down a day after losing to Louisville.
Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said Monday his team looked down a day after losing to Louisville.

Never mind, for the moment, if Kentucky beating No. 15 Florida on Saturday night is within the realm of possibility. Upsets do occur.

The better question might be whether Kentucky believes it can beat Florida.

Surely, 24 straight losses to the Gators creates room for doubt even if UK Coach Joker Phillips repeatedly pooh-poohed the idea of a historical drought draining the Cats' self-confidence. And, of course, UK's play so far this season provided little reassurance.

"As I mentioned to the linebacker corps the other day, what happened to us believing?" junior Ridge Wilson said this week.

Wilson recalled "We believe" as a rallying cry for UK football when he first arrived at UK.

"I just kind of wonder if the fans still believe, if the players still believe," he said.

The Kentucky players said they believed. Defensive tackle Donte Rumph went so far as to say, "We're going to change history."

Wilson remained unconvinced.

"I know people look at us like we're all talk just because we beat the teams we're supposed to beat besides Louisville," he said in reference to U of L's hard-to-swallow handling of the Cats last weekend. "We always get blown out by the Floridas, the SEC, the Alabamas."

To borrow the slogan for this UK football season, when will Kentucky rise?

"If we don't do it now, it'll never happen," Wilson said.

A pointed question asked by co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter after a practice this week fueled Wilson's now-or-never urgency.

Minter asked the players, "When is this bleeding going to stop?"

Minter meant when was Kentucky going to be more competitive against Florida, Tennessee and the rest of the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference.

"Clear as day," Wilson said of Minter's message. "Basically, we've got to step up and play ball and win some games. We can't just keep losing. Simple as that."

Easy to say, much more difficult to do as evidenced by UK's 24-game losing streak against Florida. That's the second-longest active losing streak for teams that play every season. Of course, it's exceeded only by UK's 26-game losing streak to Tennessee. The Cats will try to stanch that gaping wound in November.

First comes Florida in a game the UK players apparently see as a referendum on the program's credibility.

"We have a lot to prove," Rumph said. "We're kind of on the bottom of the totem pole."

Rumph blirted out a "Whoa!" when a reporter noted that Kentucky had not beaten Florida since 1986, which the players might view as the dawn of time.

Linebacker Ronnie Sneed spoke hopefully of Kentucky's sputtering start reflecting a lack of cohesion rather than inadequate talent.

"We're good," he said. "We have to be on the same page, and everything will be fine, I'm telling you."

Kentucky's pages include plenty of erasures, white-outs and expletive-laced notes in the margins. For instance, the Cats rank 100th in scoring offense, 111th in total offense, 92nd in rushing offense and 108th in passing offense.

No wonder Phillips sounded unsure how to get UK's anemic offense going. After his team rushed for only 35 yards and absorbed six quarterback sacks in the Louisville game, he strained to answer about what Kentucky could count on to do well offensively.

A reporter helpfully suggested the two-minute offense, an idea Phillips raised after UK moved the ball relatively well against Louisville when in hurry-up mode.

Phillips did not bite. "I have no idea because one thing we've done poorly in practice is two-minute," he said. "The thing we have to do is put it all together, and figure out which runs and passes we execute well."

Now, Kentucky must face Florida, which has limited this season's opponents (which include Tennessee) to averages of 8.7 points, 30.7 yards rushing and 209.3 total yards.

"If you don't execute, or if you execute the way we have at times in the first three games, it could get really bad," Phillips said. "It's not been very pretty anyway. But if you don't execute ..."Apparently, the UK coach considered the thought too awful to complete. A moment later, he pondered aloud his team as Gator bait.

"These guys smell blood," Phillips said of the Gators. "They're like sharks, and they'll feed off us."

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