Saturday night’s match up with the Kentucky Wildcats was one of those “trap” games coaches publicly refuse to acknowledge but privately scare them to death. Publicly you get the traditional cliché’ comments about facing Kentucky in between an emotional win over Tennessee and the start of a crucial stretch with Alabama.
“You only get to play so many games, so there’s no reason not to be fired up,” is one such standard line. “You have to play them one game at a time so our focus is on this one,” is another lie.
Ok, maybe it’s not a lie. The players and coaches mean things like that when they say them. But it’s really what they are hoping the attitude is rather than what they think and know it will be. No matter how much players know and acknowledge that this (Kentucky) is the only game that matters this week, it just flies against human nature. That’s even more the case when you factor in a substantial percentage of the guys on the roster were not yet born the last time Kentucky beat Florida (1986).
And the Gators played like a distracted bunch in the Swamp. Florida would slice the Kentucky defense with ease only to bust an assignment or two and bog down. Florida’s defense may have missed more tackles against the Wildcats than in the first three games combined. Those are signs of a squad being somewhere else mentally.
Half Focus Was More than Enough
Florida scored on its first possession of the contest by driving 74 yards in just six plays (79 if you count making up for a penalty). The Gators scored on their last possession of the first half, driving 78 yards on seven plays to take the lead shortly before intermission. In both drives, Florida showcased its balanced attack and superior speed. It also demonstrated its remarkable incompetence when it comes to extra points. Yet in between those drives, Florida staggered and sputtered around lie a team lacking focus.
Defensively the Gators struggled with a changed look from Kentucky and got frustrated by the quick throws of Andre Woodson that negated Florida’s pass rush. Kentucky moved the ball throughout the half, amassing 184 total yards on 33 plays, but the Gators held strong at their own end and limited the high scoring ‘Kats to just seven points. (They entered the game tied for the SEC lead with 33.3 points/game)
The second half saw Kentucky decide to try and throw downfield more and the results were predictably disastrous. The extra time in the pocket led to Woodson being sacked repeatedly; and after averaging 5.6 yards a play in the first half, Kentucky managed just 65 yards on 27 plays (2.4) in the third and fourth quarters.
Florida’s offense was marginally better. At least they made their extra points! The Gators gained 280 yards in the final 30 minutes but repeated failures in the red zone limited UF to just 14 points. For the game, Florida entered Kentucky territory eight times and scored on just four of those opportunities.
Tebow and Booing
Freshman quarterback Tim Tebow put a charge into the crowd in the third quarter when he ran three straight times for 62 yards giving the Gators a first and goal. In came Chris Leak and the crowd booed. Memo to my brethren in the media: The crowd was booing the decision to change quarterbacks, not Leak. They would have booed Danny Wuerffel at that point.
Later there was a small amount of booing when Leak again checked in for Tebow deep in Kentucky territory. But that response was quickly drowned out with applause and a brief “Leak for Heisman” chant. Again, fans were unhappy with any change at that point.
Every media outlet will get some mileage out of the booing, but that’s to be expected. Generally speaking the media loves a quarterback controversy. Nothing is more fun than debating Johnson versus Palmer or Dean versus Wuerffel. It makes things much more interesting. But Florida is nowhere near a quarterback controversy.
I’d say at least 95 percent of Florida fans want Leak to be the quarterback, and that’s about as good as it gets. Leak is admired and respected as he continues his assault on the UF record book. No, he’s not loved like Danny Wuerffel, but who is? I doubt that anyone will ever be placed on that pedestal. Still I’m convinced Florida fans were not booing their quarterback and are not going to. The Gators like what they have in the present. It’s just that with a big lead, they wanted like a longer glimpse at the future