Something's gotta give
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 7:10 p.m.
There certainly are people out there who believe this is one of the best chances Kentucky has to end its long losing streak against Florida. The biggest reason is Florida has lost its starting quarterback and Tyler Murphy will be getting his first start.
But it's more than that. Kentucky fans who have watched this Florida team know it rarely blows anyone out, and the Wildcats could hang in there and make something special happen at the end.
They know they have a coach in Mark Stoops who knows the UF program and personnel. They know Florida isn't bringing the kind of game-breakers to Lexington that have plagued Kentucky for more than two decades.
And they know they are only 13-point underdogs. That's the lowest spread in this game since Florida was a 6½-point favorite in 2007.
So it's possible. But if Kentucky is going to stop the streak at 26, here are five things the Wildcats have to do:
1. Get turnovers.
The Gators have been a turnover machine in their last two games, losing the ball eight times, and that doesn't include Kyle Christy's dropped snap on a punt against Tennessee or a failed fourth down against Miami. Kentucky has struggled to force turnovers, getting three fumbles and no interceptions. As a result, UK ranks last in turnover margin.
2. Stay away from penalties.
Kentucky has a young team with a brand new coaching staff, and it has shown in the first three games. The Wildcats are averaging 73.3 yards in penalties per game, which is the worst in the league. Penalties can change the momentum of games whether they are negating big plays or keeping opponents' drives alive.
3. Convert third downs.
Florida has made a living off controlling the ball, and even though time of possession may be an overrated stat, it's still part of the Gator plan. The best way to eat away at that plan is to keep your offense on the field. On paper, this looks like a mismatch. Kentucky is last in the SEC in third-down conversions while Florida is first in stopping them. The Wildcats have to get some short-yardage third-down plays and make them count to have a chance.
4. Get off to a good start.
It's not that Florida can't come from behind as it often did last year and again Saturday against Tennessee. But in all three losses over the last two seasons, UF has fallen behind early in the first quarter and never caught up. That also keeps the crowd in the game, and while Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium isn't The Swamp or Death Valley, it can still get loud. In the last five games against Kentucky, Florida has outscored the Wildcats 97-3 in the first quarter en route to an overall margin of 238-32.
5. Catch the ball.
The Wildcats rank fourth in the SEC in passing. If their receivers had caught every pass that hit them in the hands, they might be leading the league. There were seven drops alone in the Louisville game. Kentucky spent a lot of time during the bye week working on hand-eye coordination with the receivers.
On the other hand, there are certain things Florida needs to do to keep the streak alive. (Wouldn't it have been funny if UF coach Will Muschamp has said this week, “The best thing about winning 26 in a row against a team is the chance to win 27 in a row?”)
There have been few close games in the series since Kentucky won in 1986. The last one came in 2007 when Florida won by eight and ESPN GameDay was in Lexington.
If Florida can do these five things, it should be able to start the SEC season 2-0.
1. Run the ball.
We know that's what the Gators want to do with Matt Jones and Mack Brown. The good news is that Kentucky is 13th in the league against the run. Florida's power packages should be effective against the undersized Kentucky defense, but you know Stoops will get exotic with his run blitzes. Against Tennessee, the answer for Florida was to attack the perimeter when the Vols blitzed the middle.
2. Be who you are.
This Florida defense is being lauded as the best in the SEC. Statistically it is, and it's not even close when we're talking yards per game allowed. But with this offense and especially with a quarterback making his first start, it's vital this defense realizes there are no days off.
3. Make Tyler Murphy comfortable.
The kid looked so poised against Tennessee, but it's always different going on the road. Some early easy completions could help him get settled and maybe a cheap score after a turnover. It's important that the offensive line be at its best in this game.
4. Get back to ball security.
Remember when the Gators were known as a team that didn't turn the ball over until that aberration against Georgia? Unfortunately, Florida fans can't help but wonder if that was a fluky game or the start of a trend. In Florida's last nine games, it has suffered 20 turnovers. Nothing can keep an underdog in a game like turnovers.
5. Step on the neck quickly.
These Kentucky fans are looking for a reason to leave the game early and go home to watch high school basketball recruiting videos. Florida started slowly on defense against Miami and slowly on offense against Tennessee. Get off to a fast start on both sides of the ball, and the Gators can steal the will away from this team.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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