Gators Understand Wildcat Offensive Threats

You won't catch the Florida Gators underestimating the Kentucky Wildcats offense this week, despite some injuries and a lot of attrition due to graduation last year. Sparked by a freshman receiver and a number of complimenting tailbacks the Wildcats will get the full attention of the Gators this weekend for the University of Florida's Homecoming matchup in The Swamp.

Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong believes his defense will have to be patient and consistent in defending the Wildcats. They have some nice talent and as they are young, they will be conservative to a point, but they also will drive the ball on good teams.

Last week, Kentucky came from down 13 points to win the game in the last four minutes against Arkansas. Freshman wide receiver Randall Cobb caught two touchdown passes for the win and has emerged as the big play guy for the Wildcats with the loss of star wide receiver Dicky Lyons to a carer ending knee injury.

"Randall Cobb is pretty special," Strong said Wednesday. "Watching him play, you can put him at quarterback or wide receiver. If you look at the last two touchdowns last week, they are special plays that he made."

That was Kentucky in the two minute offense, what we will likely see for most of the game from the Wildcats is an offense designed not to make mistakes and one designed to keep the Gator defense on the field for long stretches of time.

"When you look at Kentucky, they are still going to do the same things," Strong said referring to them not changing the offense due to injuries to Lyons and star running back Derrick Locke. "They have enough running backs in the stable there and with Cobb going to receiver, they are still going to throw the ball around...They are going to try and nickel and dime you and take what you give them, then go for the home run if they can get it."

Luckily for the Gators, this isn't the Kentucky team that the Gators faced in Lexington a year ago. Quarterback Andre Woodson and a bevy of quick receivers caused havoc for the Gators. They threw the ball all over the field completing passes long and short and really making the Florida secondary look maybe the worst it has looked in some time. Strong said this Kentucky team does not resemble that one at all.

"You don't have the quarterback or receivers...they were a different team compared to this season," Strong said. "The quarterback was the guy that made a ton of plays for them. He stood in there and threw the ball and a lot of their throws were down the field. Last year Dicky Lyons beat us on a long throw and it may have been like five touchdowns, 500 plus yards and 38 points. They are a different team just because of the quarterback position."

The Gators are also enjoying a little bit of a personnel boon. Favorable recruiting classes have netted a defensive roster that is allowing the coaching staff to shuffle players in and keep them fresh.

"We just have more depth," Strong said. "We had a bunch of guys play last year that weren't ready. Now we tell guys, if you go out there in practice you will get an opportunity to play. We substitute a lot of guys and keep them fresh...They have a higher motor because they know if they don't go hard they are coming out of the game."

One sore spot last season was the play at safety. Freshman Major wright was learning by fire and the other safety spot was rotated among many but the combination never paid dividends for the Gators and in the Kentucky game may have been a real weak spot. This year Strong has seen good play from starting safeties Major Wright and Ahmad Black.

"They are playing pretty good right now," Strong said. "The thing we have to do is eliminate big plays and that position is a position that can eliminate them. If you don't get the ball thrown over your head you can run up there and tackle and prevent the big plays."

Black has been a pillar of strength for this defense so far this year. He and Wright both have two interceptions and share for the team lead in that category. Black is a sure tackler and just a steady force so far in the first half of the season. He understands that Kentucky is going to bait them underneath all day on Saturday and the Gators just have to maintain and make the plays when they come to them.

"It really can (frustrate you) and they hurt us a lot last year on a lot of screens," Black said about the short passing game of the Wildcats. "We have to get the defensive linemen and everybody to run to the ball. It starts out with us seeing the linemen coming out, to call out the screens. We just have to run to the ball and stop it."

There is also no look ahead for this team and Black is the first to say that. Georgia looms next week, but Kentucky comes into this game 5-2 and is capable of upsetting anyone.

"We just have to stay focused and think about taking one game at a time," Black said. "We are worried about Kentucky and Kentucky only."

Along with Black, freshman cornerback Janoris Jenkins has been one of the major surprises this season for the Gators. A lot of people knew of Jenkins talent, but few expected him to be starting this early in his career and playing so solid if not spectacular.

Jenkins is confident and doesn't shy away from the pressure of being someone so young and expects offensive coordinators to test him. He relishes the chance to make a play and wants the ball thrown his way.

"Yes I do," he replied when asked if he wanted the ball thrown his direction in games. "I expect them to every week because I am a freshman. They may think I may not have any play making ability. I just need to go out and concentrate and play the best that I can. I just have to go out and ball thirty minutes a half and hope something comes my way. When it comes my way, I have to make the play."

It really has seem to come easy for Jenkins this season. He says that the game is just a notch higher than what he played in high school in South Florida.

"It isn't the same, it's just a little faster," he said. "You have a lot of good athletes and talent up to my level, I just have to go out and play...It isn't quite what I expected. But, since I got in here in January I have gotten used to it, knowing what to do and go out and prepare."

He also has a lot of respect for this Kentucky team and the receivers he will face on Saturday.

"They have a lot of talent," Jenkins said. "They have people at receiver that can also throw the ball. I expect that every week, you never know what a team might bring so we have to be ready for any and everything."

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Charlie Strong is getting better play from his defense as a whole and says that a lot of that has to do with All-American candidate Brandon Spikes. Spikes had a good season in 2007, but Strong says he has taken it up a notch in 2008.

"Spikes in his first year, he had a chance to learn under (Brandon) Siler," Strong said. "Last year he played but wasn't the player he is right now. The more he has played he developed in the position and he knows what is going on. That is where he has grown and matured knowing everything about fundamentals. I think this year he is a lot better, he has gotten a lot stronger and you can really notice the difference."

Spikes is the leader and has accepted that role.

"We expect that from him every week," Strong said. "He is the face of the defense and to rally our guys. We know that as Spikes goes, the defense goes."

Strong noted the two most improved players from last year's defense.

"The most improved player...Ahmad Black would be one and Lawrence Marsh would be number two," he said.


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