Notebook: Secondary struggles

Florida knew Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles would be able to stretch the field with his arm, but the sophomore didn’t need precise throws on Saturday. Blown coverages and issues with the Florida secondary allowed the Wildcats to hit big plays through the air.

In total, Will Muschamp cited six “big plays” that went for 173 yards in the passing game. Patrick Towles ended the night with 369 passing yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

“We’ve just got to cover better. Bottom line,” Will Muschamp said after the game. “That’s my responsibility. We’ll improve on it.”

Blown coverages left Kentucky freshman receiver Garrett Johnson open down the field for two touchdowns, ending his night with six catches for 154 yards.

The Florida coaches put a lot on their safeties to get everyone else in position on the defense, but there were issues in the communication on Saturday that allowed Kentucky receivers to run free.

“A little bit of communication issues and being on the same page,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got to play some more split safety and roll up outside, not creating as many one-on-one matchups outside. We had opportunities to make plays on the ball, and we’ve got to make some of those.”

Even when the receivers weren’t wide open, Towles took his shots. He gave the Wildcats’ receivers chances to make plays down the field. Sometimes it ended with an interception -- he threw three total on the night -- and sometimes it ended in six points for Kentucky.

But the sophomore took shots and gave his offense reason to believe they could win in The Swamp.

“When you play a team that’s willing to throw the ball vertically that much, there’s going to be some 50-50 balls,” Muschamp said. “We need to play the ball better. In some situations, we didn’t.”

INJURY REPORT: Florida stayed healthy during Saturday’s game. Muschamp mentioned right tackle Rod Johnson battling cramps, but that shouldn’t impact him next weekend at Alabama.

Freshman receiver C.J. Worton broke his hand and will be in a cast for the next 2-3 weeks.

ROBINSON STEALS THE SHOW: It was a record breaking night for sophomore receiver Demarcus Robinson. He tied the school record with 15 catches in a game, previously set by Carlos Alvarez in 1969. He made plays down the field on the ball but also caught shorter passes and was able to turn them into big gains by making Kentucky defensive backs miss tackles.

“He’s a guy that’s obviously a playmaker and can win some one-on-one battles,” Muschamp said.

In the season opener against Eastern Michigan, Robinson came off the bench for his seven-catch performance. Against Kentucky, he earned the start over fellow sophomore Ahmad Fulwood and started reeling in the targets from the first drive. Robinson ended the game with 21 targets.

“Feeding the hot hand,” Muschamp said when asked why he had so many thrown to him. “Game plan, he’s going to be a huge part of it. The other part of it is the way they played us. They create one-on-one matchups outside. A lot of times, we go to Jeff and say to go with the matchup he likes. And he likes that matchup. We do, too.”

DRISKEL UP AND DOWN: Early in the game, Florida had a few chances to hit plays down the field, but Jeff Driskel overthrew them. He had Quinton Dunbar open behind the defense twice, leaving both just a few yards over his outstretched hands. It wasn’t an isolated event for Driskel.

“We had some open throws, we didn’t hit on them,” Muschamp said. “We had four or five shots that we missed down the field.”

Kentucky disguised some blitzes and gave a few new-look blitzes to put pressure on Driskel. The Wildcats often blitzed an extra man, putting added pressure on Driskel to get rid of the ball. When Florida picked it up, he missed throws down the field. The hope is that those throws will connect in the future and discourage teams from leaving one-on-one chances for the Florida receivers.

“If you hit a couple of those balls, it changes how they play,” Muschamp said. “We didn’t hit those balls.”

Even through the struggles, Saturday’s game brought hope. Florida is now equipped to get into shootouts and score enough points to keep up. That wasn’t the case last year.

“We’re explosive enough offensively to get in a game like that and know we can make some plays,” Muschamp said. “We knew, no matter if we got down one score or two scores, we’re explosive enough offensively to go make plays. As we moved forward last year, we weren’t. As a competitor, you don’t want to admit something like that, but it’s hard not to at times when you struggle to score 10 points."


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