UK vs Florida Preview

Kentucky vs. Florida Saturday September 27 Commonwealth Stadium Lexington, Kentucky 12:30 p.m. EST (Jefferson-Pilot)

Wildcat fan's had better hope that Coach Brooks has been on the telephone with Mr. Crocodile Hunter Steve Erwin preparing for the arrival of a heated group of reptilians. If there is one thing I have learned from watching the Crocodile Hunter, you do not want to go tanglin' with an angry reptile! Now if the tanglin' is inevitable, I would go looking for a young reptile, and it just so happens a youthful bunch of Gators will be rolling into Commonwealth Stadium this Saturday.

The other call Rich Brooks should have made this week is to 200-meter world-record holder Michael Johnson. What would Brooks and Johnson have to talk about? One thing Michael Johnson understands is how to get out too a fast start! If Kentucky has any chance this weekend it is imperative that they come out of the gates firing. Florida has not given up a first quarter touchdown in its last seven regular season games and Tennessee is the only team to score an offensive touchdown in the first half against the Gators this season.

Wonder if Johnson could spare Arliss Beach a pair of those gold track shoes?

Here we go…. And no, I have not been drinking!

Kentucky by: 6

Trenches: Kentucky's offensive line after the Indiana game: still bad! The positives from Saturday's game is that even though they gave up a sack, the Kentucky O-Line looked much better the second half (as did the entire team). Starting left guard Jason Rollins is doubtful for the Florida game with a strained shoulder. Senior Nate Van Sickel, who took Rollins' place in the lineup, will start if Rollins cannot go. The one thing I have noticed about this unit is that are having a hard time getting out on the linebackers and sealing the block. In the secondary, Arliss Beach has the ability to make a defender miss or even run through a tackle, he just needs the initial blocks to get there. Something tells me that the big boys up front will have their best performance of the season this Saturday against the Gators.

When the Florida coaching staff ordered up an offensive line, they must have paid the extra fifty-five cents for the value size. The Gator front five is huge averaging 6-foot-5 / 317 pounds. Sophomore center Mike Degory has started each of the first 17 games of his career; has great technique and is an all around solid lineman. The Gator front five has yet to find its "happy place" this season due to the many position changes throughout the summer that has continued the first four games. Florida has given up eight sacks this season but only two through the last 8 quarters. With true freshman Chris Leak getting his first start at quarterback against the Cats, I expect Mike Archer will tell his defense to pin their ear-holes back and get after the young Leak. The Gator front five give up at least two sacks this Saturday.

Quarterbacks: Seriously, I do not know what else to say about Jared Lorenzen, he deserves every accolade tossed his way and more. If J-Lo pulls out a win against Florida, he will be able to finally seat himself in the throne that was vacated, and still enshrined to the current backup quarterback in Cleveland. Last season, Lorenzen was overshadowed against the Gators, and rightfully so, by Kentucky's Derek Abney. Let us not forget that Lorenzen completed 20 of 32 passes for 180yards, two TDs and one INT in last year's contest, his touchdown throws to Abney and Aaron Boone showed off the big boy's touch. With the emergence of a running game against Indiana (kind of) and the big play ability of Chris Bernard, Lorenzen should have no problem throwing for at least 200 yards and two touchdowns against the Gators. Shane Boyd will see more playing time this week than he has all season. I do not say that because I have the inside scoop, I say it because exploiting his speed will be paramount this week. Look for Boyd and tailback Draak Davis to work the corner of the Florida defense with the option as well as more of Boyd pulling the ball up and throwing it down field.

Chris Leak is a great athlete that is trying to become a great quarterback, but as he has found out this season the learning curve on the collegiate level is steep. Leak is 34-for-49 for 359 yards with two TDs and two interceptions this season. When you erase the two Florida blowouts over San Jose St. and Florida A&M, Leak's numbers are dramatically different. Against Miami and Tennessee Leak was 18-for-27 for 169 yards, zero TDs, and two interceptions. Leak has thrown more accurately and shown a stronger arm than the guy he replaces this week, sophomore Ingle Martin. Leak has yet to show any willingness to tuck the ball and run out of the pocket. That should change this week as the Kentucky defense tries to rattle the youngster playing his first SEC road game. Ingle Martin may not have the physical tools possessed by Leak but he is a steady quarterback that likes to throw the short pass and will see some playing time this Saturday. This game is all about the freshman, and no matter how great his ability, Leak is not ready to lead an inexperienced Florida team into Commonwealth Stadium.

Running Backs: Here it is the statistic of the season thus far: 50 yards! Not one member of the Kentucky backfield has rushed for 50 yards in a game this season. Q.B. Shane Boyd did rush for 57 yards against Murray State, but I am talking running backs. Arliss Beach will finally get his chance when he cracks the starting line-up against the Gators. Beach saw limited action in the first four games but when he has touched the ball, he has been impressive. The only thing left for beach to do is scratch the E & W off his compass, running the ball in the SEC is all about N & S. If Beach gets behind fullback Rock Johnson and lowers his shoulders; this Saturday could be the first game a Kentucky tailback rushes for fifty yards, but why stop there? Beach tacks on an extra twenty-five for good measure. Draak Davis has rushed the ball for a dismal 2.6 yards per carry average this season. Davis has been much more of a weapon catching the ball out of the backfield averaging 9.2 yards per recept. Kentucky may like the ideal of wearing down the opposing defense with the bigger and stronger Beach and Alex Bwenge allowing Kentucky to capitalize on the speed of the undersized Davis.

The Florida tailback tandem of senior Ran Carthon and Freshman DeShawn Wynn is an explosive one-two-punch. The Carthon and Wynn attack has been a balanced one this season with Carthon rushing for 186 yards on 41 attempts, and Wynn 249 yards on 39 attempts for. Both possess great speed and can break the long one at anytime. Wynn showed off his speed against Miami outrunning the hurricane secondary for a 65 yard TD. Neither of these talented backs has been able to get anything going between the tackles this season, and Tennessee exploited the weakness. The Vols stymied the Gator rushing attack for 73 yards on 27 attempts, which works out to 2.7 yards per rush. But then again, this is the Kentucky defense the Gators are facing this week so I can not imagine a complete shutdown of the Florida rushing game. The duo of Wynn and Carthon will definitely combine for over 120 yards rushing this week, the question is can Kentucky keep it under 200 yards? If they do, the Cats drastically improve their chances for a win.

Receivers: I stated last week that with the emergence of freshmen Keenan Burton and Maurice Marchman along with the return of Tommy Cook, Chris Bernard would need to make every catch count. I would say three receptions for 100 yards and one touchdown is making every catch count. Where was Glenn Holt last week? Maybe I missed something but why would there be a game that he is without a reception? Holt is big-time talent; Lorenzen had better have target lock on him this week against the Gators. Still waiting for Tommy Cook to get into the flow after an injury plagued summer that kept him out of Kentucky's season opener. Cook is sneaky quick, if the Gator DB's nod off he could take a post pattern to the house this Saturday. Look for Derek Abney to keep getting the ball on the reverse as well as continuing to be Lorenzen's go-to-guy through the air. If Kentucky is to strike fast then Abney has to lose the bobble-hands that have plagued him in the early stages of the games against Alabama and Indiana.

I do believe that the Wildcat's will have to use their tight ends against Florida. 6-foot-5 Winn Gaffron is still working out the kinks in his blocking techniques, but should see a couple of tosses come his way this Saturday. Look for the injured Jeremiah Drobney to continue his role as a blocking tight end as Kentucky tries to establish the run.

The good is that Taylor Jacobs is no longer wearing the orange and blue of Florida, the bad is that sophomore Carlos Perez is. It has been receiver by committee this season for Florida with fourteen different players recording receptions. Against Tennessee 9 different Gators hauled in a completion. Back to Perez, though he only has six receptions this season, he should still be considered the most lethal of the Florida receivers. Florida has yet to look downfield for the big play, if they do throw deep this Saturday, look for Perez to be on the receiving end. Kelvin Kight has 19 catches to lead all Florida receivers. The total is better than two of his three previous seasons as he had six catches in 2000 and eight in 2001. His two touchdowns this season matched his season high of two in the 2001 campaign. True Freshman Andre Caldwell is a burner that has a heady maturity for the game, playing well beyond his freshman status. Caldwell's early success justifies why had him listed as the No. 1 receiver in the country and considered the No. 1 offensive prospect in the southeast coming out of high school. Caldwell and junior O.J. Small will continue to lead the UF receivers this week against the Cats.

6-foot-4 / 262 pound tight end Ben Troupe could cause some serious problems for the Kentucky defense. Troupe is quickly becoming a favorite target of the UF quarterbacks and will continue to be this week as Kentucky bottles up Florida's deep passing game. Troupe had career-high five catches for 106 yards against Tennessee, three going for over 20 yards. Troupe has had 15 catches this season after having 15 all of last season. The Wildcat linebackers will have their hands full covering the big tight end.

D-Line and Linebackers: Sweet Pea Burns saw his numbers drop last week, not because another team decided not to run at him but because he had a wicked case of the flu. Flu or no flu, Burns continues to be impressive. He is third in the nation in tackles for loss, has 10.5 TFL this season, an average of 2.67 per game. This week Burns brings an active streak of 10 consecutive games with at least one tackle for loss. Jeremy Caudill has continued his invigorated play and will definitely make his presence known against the Gators. Nose tackles Ellery Moore and Lamar Mills have combined for 39 tackles this season, excelling in the toughest position to play in the Cats 3-4 scheme. The Wildcat D-Line has continued to improve this season and will need to be at their best against the Gators.

Kentucky's Dustin Williams seemed to be everywhere against Indiana last Saturday. The 6-foot-5 / 244 pound Williams totaled 20 tackles from his inside linebacker position and was as aggressive as any Kentucky defender has been all year. Inside linebacker, Justin Haydock was as steady as ever racking up 12 tackles against Indiana. After an impressive performance against Alabama, Chad Anderson did not start against IU and made little noise against the Hoosiers. The 6-foot-2 / 250 pound Anderson is listed as the starter at inside linebacker opposite Williams heading into the Florida game with Haydock filling in as backup at both inside linebacker slots. Nothing like having to swallow your pride to get you focused and motivated. That was exactly what it took for outside linebacker Deion Holts to play the best game of his career last week. Holt chalked up eight tackles and three sacks against Indiana. With this newfound enthusiasm and confidence, look for Holt to improve on his eight tackles and record at least one sack against the Gators. With true freshman Durrell White continuing his exceptional play at the other outside linebacker, this once written off unit is slowly becoming a respectable SEC linebacking corp.

The Florida defensive line has been impressive this season and will no doubt be a handful for Kentucky's struggling offensive line. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald leads the Gators with six tackles for a loss. He is one of 17 different Gators to have recorded a tackle behind the line this season. McDonlad is tied for the lead with defensive end Daryl Lee; both have recorded two sacks this season. The thing that the Florida defense has done this year is stay off the field. Tennessee had 14 possessions in the game against Florida. The Florida defense held eight of those to just five plays or less and five were three-and-outs. The Florida defense allowed UT to have only three drives in the game longer than four minutes and seven were for less than three minutes. Moral of this story is that the Kentucky O-Line must do something it has not done all year, dominate the line of scrimmage, and control the ball, keeping a worn out Gator "D" on the field.

The Gator's starting linebacking unit average 6-foot-1 / 234 pounds. They are not a physical as the Alabama linebackers, but every bit as quick getting to the ball. True freshman Channing Crowder leads the unit with 20 tackles this season, which ranks fourth on the squad. The 6-foot-2 / 236 pound Crowder was impressive against Miami and had his best game of the season against Tennessee totaling 11 tackles, with 1.5 tackles for a loss. Crowder is quick, the Kentucky lineman need to keep their heads up and looking for #55 the entire game. Matt Farrior and Reid Fleming man the other two linebacker positions. The Tennessee game was the first time this season that Florida has started the game with three linebackers. Much like the Florida offensive line, the Gator defense has yet to field a stable linebacking unit. The only consistency comes in the form of Crowder but as a freshman, he can not be expected to lead the Gator defense.

Secondary: Senior corner-back Leonard Burress stepped in for the injured Bo Smith and had what was maybe the best game of his Wildcat career against the Hoosiers. Burress looked great in coverage and recorded three pass breakups against the Hoosiers. With Smith still listed as questionable against the Gators, Burress should see plenty of playing time against the Gators. Bo Smith is Kentucky's best cover corner and they need him on the field. The play of Burress last week should ease the jittery hearts of the Kentucky faithful that have seen too many long touchdowns given up by the Cats in this series. Stepping into the shoes of previous big hitting Kentucky DBs such as Melvin Johnson and Quentis Cumby, strong safety Mike Williams takes form of a guided missile on the football field. Williams needs to let his pads do the talking this week as he mimics the infamous Bernie Mack line "I ain't scared of you @##*@" against Florida's big tight end Ben troupe and the entire Gator backfield. Earven Flowers continues his solid play at corner-back with four pass breakups on the season. Muhammad Abdullah has been a pleasant surprise at free safety this season. Abdullah is tied for sixth nationally in interceptions, and has provided solid run support totaling 15 tackles on the season. I still stand by my assertion that the Wildcat defensive backfield is the cornerstone of the Kentucky defense and will be the deciding factor in the game this Saturday. The Kentucky DBs will shut down the long ball, giving the D-line and linebackers time to pressure Florida Q.B. Leak.

Florida's top three tacklers on the team are from the secondary. Free safety Daryl Dixon leads the Gators with 35 stops. Strong safety Guss Scott is second on the team with 23, while cornerback Johnny Lamar ranks third with 22 tackles to his credit. What that says to me is that the Florida defense is having a problem stopping the ball from leaving the box. The Gator DBs are one interception away from totaling seven interceptions on the season, that is the total they complied all of last year. Scott has been the Gators most consistent DB this year with has four pass breakups and two interceptions this season. The knock against the Florida secondary is their size, the starting four average 5-foot-10 while Kentucky receivers Bernard, Holt and Burton measure in at 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2, and 6-foot-2. J-Lo will put them high and over the shoulder as the Kentucky receivers use their size to beat the Gator secondary.

Special Teams: I am tired of talking about and hearing about Derek Abney the return man, when he returns one for a touchdown this season I will talk about it. The big news from the Indiana game was the success of punter Anthony Thorton who was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week. Thorton punted seven times for a career-best 46.3-yard average, including a career-long 58-yard punt. Kentucky has sorely missed the advantage created last season by then senior punter Glen Pakulak who consistently pinned the opposing tem deep in its own territory. We all know Kentucky kicker Clint Ruth can kick the ball deep but he has added a new wrinkle to his repertoire. Ruth has become a master at directional kicking. Over the past few games, Ruth has angled his kicks to the corner of the goal line enabling the coverage team to collapse on the return man, leaving him little field to work with. I believe this week's game will hang squarely on the leg of Kentucky field goal kicker Taylor Begley. Begley will have to nail two kicks from at least 40 yards to seal the deal for the Cats this Saturday.

With all of the hype surrounding Derek Abney and the Kentucky return team, Florida's 14.5 yard average per punt return is tops in the SEC and 18th in the nation. UF's Keiwan Ratliff and Vernell Brown rank first and second in the league with averages of 16.0 and 15.0, respectively. Florida's Matt Leach has connected on 28 straight extra point attempts dating back to Nov. 2, 2002 against Georgia. Leach has a great leg and has been Mr. Automatic connecting on six of seven field goals this season. Punter Eric Wilbur boomed a 75 yard punt against tennesse and his average 43.4 per punt is second in the SEC.

In A Nut Shell: Kentucky's defense is improving and the coaching staff made their smartest move of the season by giving Beach the starting nod this week. I know its Florida, and Kentucky is… well Kentucky, but there is something in the air. What is that I smell in the air Cat fans? It is an aroma that rarely permeates the Lexington air… it my friends, is the smell of an upset!

J.L. Floyd

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