UK-Florida, a year ago

I wanted to re-post my column from UK’s game at Florida last season, because people tend to forget how close it really was. In fact, I came away from that game thinking that UK had missed a golden opportunity to knock off the Gators (who eventually became national champions), though a lot of UK fans said I was too hard on the team in this column. Note especially the italicized section. Just food for thought . . .

Instead of shooting down Gators, UK shoots itself

GAINESVILLE, Fla.

Standard Swamp fare:

A man on University Avenue holds a sign bearing three words — “Jesus is Lord ” — while wearing a shirt sporting three more: “Leak for Heisman.”

A lawn sign reads: “Beer $20. Parking complimentary.” Another claims, “You honk, we drink.”

Even the Hare Krishnas out front had amps and mics.

When you’re the University of Florida and you’ve beaten the University of Kentucky football team 19 straight games and 13 in a row at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, you have to do what you can to keep it interesting — especially on what proved to be “Sleepwalk Saturday,” in which Top 25 teams wound up in unexpectedly tough matchups with unranked teams all day. So Florida coach Urban Meyer went sandlot on the Gators’ first drive of what would be a 26-7 win last night.

On first and 10 at UK’s 33, Gators quarterback Chris Leak handed off to wideout Andre Caldwell on an end-around, then Caldwell gave to wideout Dallas Baker on a reverse, and before the play could get blown up, Baker flipped back to Leak, who found Jemalle Cornelius all alone in the end zone.

Sound the alarm

It was a play that would have been better saved for LSU or Auburn. But Meyer knew the importance of waking his team, and the crowd of 90,292. And it did for a little bit.

Which brings us to the most painful part of last night’s loss for the Wildcats: Florida wasn’t much different from all the other sleepwalkers yesterday. The Gators were primed to be pushed to the brink.

UK was down by only 12 points four minutes into the fourth quarter. It led 7-6 four minutes before halftime. In the first half, the Wildcats showed an ability to move the ball on the No. 5 Gators even without starting tailback Rafael Little or any attempt to establish a credible running game.

But here’s the difference between being one of those teams that throws a scare into a top-five team on national television and sloshing your way home with another lopsided loss in Gainesville: five penalties, a bad call and a fumble that slipped through their fingers in the third quarter.

That’s it. Of the Wildcats’ four full first-half drives, the only one on which they didn’t commit a penalty gave them a touchdown and a 7-6 lead.

The Cats had their previous drive stopped by a bad call, an offsides on third down that the officials missed. UK coach Rich Brooks and players referenced the officiating several times after the game.

But offensive coordinator Joker Phillips was focused on something else: The UK penalties that were legitimate, particularly a handful of false starts, most of which came with quarterback Andre’ Woodson screaming checks to his line even as coaches on the sideline were screaming at him — often with less than 10 seconds left on the play clock. A couple more scores, and Florida might have had to take more chances defensively in the second half.

Too many mistakes

“We’ve got to improve that communication,” Phillips said. “We’ve got to clean up those mistakes. When we didn’t make mistakes, we moved the ball.”

The Wildcats will come home and, in the words of linebacker Wesley Woodyard, “keep everything positive.” And they should. Because this is a better, more talented UK team than in recent years.

But it’s also a team that needs to do more with chances like it had last night. You get only so many of them. Nobody expected UK to beat Florida. If the Wildcats come home and beat Central Michigan on Saturday, momentum toward a bowl appearance will be restored.

Florida is very good, but the Gators were ripe as a Florida orange last night, and UK never even shook the tree.

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8 thoughts on “UK-Florida, a year ago

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