LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Kentucky coach Guy Morriss discusses his keys to Saturday's Southeastern Conference opener against the nation's No. 2 team, the Florida Gators:
n Execution, Resolution
"Close to it," said Morriss when asked if the Cats need to be perfect against such a formidable opponent. "We've got to execute. We can't have turnovers, mental mistakes, misalignments, those type of things. That's pretty much perfect if you take out those... If you can get them to execute, and good things start happening, you get on a roll and things snowball in your favor, that helps. But if you go out and press and make mistakes, the dam breaks, then it works against you."
In last year's game at The Swamp, Kentucky was trailing 24-17 with 1:52 left in the first half and in possession of the ball. Instead of driving for a potential game-tying score, the Cats had a fumble and an interception leading to a pair of quick scores and a 38-17 deficit. Florida quickly added another touchdown to start the second half --- its third in a span of 148 seconds --- as the dam broke and consummated with a 59-31 blowout.
Borrowing from the President's terminology to describe the recent national events, Morriss said the Cats must also show resolve to believe they can overcome adversity on Saturday.
"We've got to believe in ourselves. We talk to them every week about coming out and playing as one man, playing together, and believing in each other... Early in the week we talked about resolution and hearing from our leaders that we have to have all this resolve to get through this crisis we're in, so we kind of tied it into that. That's a buzz word that they've been hearing a lot lately, so I explained to them what it meant to have resolve. I said, 'Hey, search your own soul. Look in the mirror. If you really think you can beat Florida, if you feel that way, then go out and execute all week during practice, take care of the little things because the little things are what make a difference.
"It remains to be seen. How strong is their resolution?"
n Run the ball effectively
This one's a two-fold goal. The Cats need a good showing from the running game in order to execute the entire offensive package, and perhaps even more important, to maintain possession and keep the explosive Spurrier offense off the field.
Last year, Kentucky put up an impressive 141 yards rushing, including a career-high 125 by Artose Pinner, against the Gators. Can they do it again?
"I would hope so since we've spent a heckuva lot more time working on the running game than we did last year," Morriss said. "We've got a lot of time invested in it. It would certainly help us do other things in the overall outcome of the game. We probably need to slow the game down a little bit."
But that's been a problem area for the Cats in their first two games. Kentucky ranks 10th in the SEC in average time of possession at 25:02 per game. Barring a number of unexpected big plays and quick strikes, that number has to be significantly higher against Florida.
n Be solid along the defensive front
For the first time in recent memory, Kentucky enters a game against Florida with a favorable matchup along its defensive front. Dennis Johnson, Chris Demaree, Dewayne Robertson, Jeremy Caudill and Ellery Moore could give the Cats hope for slowing down the Gators.
"I would hope that we're better equipped to handle them than in the past," Morriss said. "We're going to have to be to get where we want to go."
But it's not just a strong pass rush UK will need, contrary to popular belief.
"People think that they're pass-happy and all that," Morriss said. "They're pretty much balanced. You can't focus on stopping the passing game. I think it's been something like 52 percent pass and 48 percent run in the 11 years (Spurrier) has been there. They can run the ball when they want to, or when they have to. There's no one thing you take away against Florida. You have to take away everything."
Make no mistake: Florida may be the nation's best team. The Cats need their share of good fortune, nice bounces and favorable calls in this one.
One of those may also be the psychological state of the Gators when the arrive in Lexington.
"If the team that's big favorites underestimates the team they're playing, has some early adversity against them, sometimes they've been so successful that they don't know how to handle adversity when it finds them. They just don't experience it very often," Morriss said.