After loss to rival, brutal three-game SEC stretch lies ahead for Wildcats
The natives are restless after Kentucky was pushed around in a loss to in-state rival Louisville, and now the road really gets tough. The Wildcats host No. 15 Florida this
Saturday and then visit LSU and South Carolina to make a three-game stretch of grueling games to start Southeastern Conference play.
Making matters worse is that Kentucky has lost 24 consecutive games against Florida and has been ransacked by the Gators in the last three contests.
Florida outscored Kentucky 73-0 in the opening quarters of the last three meetings and won the games by a cumulative score of 152-26.
In other words, the Wildcats haven't been competitive in recent meetings, and losing to Louisville doesn't prompt optimism that the situation is about to change.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips insists that the losing streak against the Gators won't even be brought up leading up to the game.
"That's the past," Phillips said. "We don't talk about the past. We talk about the present. The present -- this team is the team that has to play Florida, not those last teams that played them."
The current Wildcats (2-1) notched victories over Western Kentucky and Central Michigan prior to the Louisville loss. Neither win was overly impressive, and Kentucky fans have been expressing their feelings.
"I understand what I signed up for, I really do," said Phillips, in his second year at the helm. "I'm not one that takes this position for granted. I understand the concerns that everybody has. I have the same concerns. We're trying to get them fixed."
Fixing them against the Gators would really be something, since Kentucky hasn't defeated Florida since 1986. NOTES,
--Junior DE Jacob Lewellen was one of 11 players named to the 2011 Allstate Good Works Team selected by Allstate Insurance and the American Football Coaches Association. The Good Works team honors athletes for their community service, and Lewellen's list of good deeds includes leading a group of Kentucky players to donate supplies for tornado victims in Joplin, Mo. Lewellen, his father and teammate Max Godby then transported the supplies from Lexington to Joplin.
--Kentucky co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter knows Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis well from their time together at Notre Dame. Minter was on Norte Dame's staff for two seasons (2005-06) during Weis' stint as head coach. The familiarity with one another makes for an interesting subplot with the two preparing for each other's style and tendencies during the week.
SERIES HISTORY: F
lorida leads 44-17 (last meeting, 2010, 48-14 Florida).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Morgan Newton is coming off his best performance (255 yards) of the season and has completed 55.8 percent of his passes. His ability to scramble and run could come in handy against a Florida defense that loves to bring pressure. Freshman Josh Clemons has rushed for 193 yards in three games, but 87 of them came on one play. The Wildcats will likely have trouble moving the ball on the ground against the Gators, who lead the nation in rushing defense (30.7 yards per game). WR La'Rod King has 14 catches for 226 yards and has caught a touchdown pass in each game. The offensive line is ailing and allowed six sacks against Louisville. It faces a tougher task in slowing down the Gators.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Kentucky ranks 19th in scoring defense (13.3 points) and 39th in total defense (314.7), and it will be relied on to keep the Wildcats in the game against Florida. All-Conference LB Danny Trevathan is once again leading the SEC in tackles (38). S-LB Winston Guy (30 tackles) has also stood out while adjusting to a new hybrid role. Junior FS Mikie Benton has supplanted senior Mychal Bailey as a starter, a role Bailey held last season. The Wildcats have six interceptions but haven't recovered a fumble. Kentucky had a season-best four sacks against Louisville.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've been here before, battled our way out of it. We'll continue to battle our way out of this. We're 2-1. We're not 0-3. Yeah, we could be 0-3. We also could be sitting here at 3-0 also." -- Kentucky coach Joker Phillips on the scrutiny that has accompanied his team's 2-1 start.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Kentucky vs. Florida, Sept. 24 -- The Gators control this series and have won the last 11 games in Lexington. The Wildcats haven't defeated a ranked Florida squad since 1976.
KEYS TO THE GAME: A quick start would be highly beneficial for Kentucky after being mauled in the opening quarter in each of the last three meetings. The Wildcats will need some artistically creative offensive plays, since running the ball will be immensely tough. The Wildcats had just 35 rushing yards against Louisville. Trying to slow down Florida star Chris Rainey (306 yards) is crucial, but who can forget versatile Trey Burton scoring a school-record six touchdowns in last season's game? Florida is averaging better than 200 yards per game both running and throwing the football, so Kentucky's defense will be tested.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Morgan Newton -- With Florida being so stingy against the run, Newton needs to throw the ball the way he did against Louisville, as opposed to struggling the way he did in Kentucky's first two games. This is a big opportunity for him to prove he won't be overmatched in games against elite SEC teams.
OLB Danny Trevathan -- Just racks up the tackles in consistent fashion and has a streak of 12 consecutive double-digit tackle games. He ranks fourth nationally in tackles per game (12.7) and has 25 career tackles for loss.
DT Mister Cobble -- Has achieved career-highs for tackles in each of the past two games, and the Wildcats are hoping he's on his way to fulfilling his vast potential. A strong performance at Florida is vital, as the Gators have controlled Kentucky in the trenches in recent seasons.
--T Billy Joe Murphy (knee) is getting closer to returning, but Saturday might be pushing it. He should be back for the following week's game against LSU.
--G Larry Warford (ankle) is day to day after tweaking an ankle in the Louisville game. The Wildcats are counting on him being available against Florida.
--WR Gene McCaskill (back) is questionable for the Florida game.