Florida vs. Kentucky: Previewing Joker Phillips' WRs vs. His Old DBs
It is well documented that Florida has beaten Kentucky in 26 consecutive head-to-head meetings, and so the streak is one of the leading storylines heading into their clash at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday night.
But for Gator wide receiver coach Joker Phillips, the only number that matters is one.
In this case, his first win against his former team.
As head coach of the Wildcats, Phillips was on the receiving end of three Gator beatdowns. And no, that's not an understatement. Kentucky was outscored by 110 points in those three losses.
Based on those numbers, you would expect another easy game for the Florida offense. If Phillips has his way, that will certainly be the case.
And unlike during the previous three years, Phillips is now in control of a wide receiver unit that should give the opposing secondary plenty of problems in this matchup.
The main reason is Kentucky's lack of depth at cornerback. Only three scholarship players returned from last season's two-win team, not to mention that promising sophomore J.D. Harmon was suspended before the season.
Junior college transfer Nate Willis was immediately thrust into a starting role this season. He has played relatively well, but he has never faced a team with the speed and talent of Florida.
On the bright side, Cody Quinn returned to limited action against Louisville and should be back in the lineup against Florida. He was the team's best coverage corner in 2012, leading the Wildcats with five pass breakups. However, the rustiness from missing two games is sure to factor into his overall effectiveness.
Quinn's return should also knock Fred Tiller out of a starting spot.
In summary, the corners are inexperienced and under-matched.
Meanwhile, the safety position has size and slightly more experience. Ashely Lowery, who survived a scary car accident in the offseason, is the best defender in the Wildcat secondary. At 6'1", he is a strong player who can outmuscle wide receivers for position.
There are pieces to work with, but keep in mind that Kentucky is one of the few teams in college football that hasn't intercepted a pass in 2013.
As much criticism as Florida gets for lacking talent on the outside, its playmakers simply have more explosiveness than the Kentucky secondary.
Quinton Dunbar hasn't exactly had the breakout season that many expected, but he is still an athletic player with good size and speed in the open field.
Solomon Patton scored the game-changing touchdown last week against Tennessee, and his role should only expand with Tyler Murphy at quarterback.
And then there's Trey Burton, whom Kentucky fans have dreaded since a six-touchdown explosion in 2010. He has the size and, lately, the catching ability to create some easy throws for Tyler Murphy.
But perhaps more than anything, Phillips will give Florida the biggest advantage because of his knowledge of the Kentucky roster.
Murphy said he's going to ask Joker Phillips a lot of questions about Ky defense since Phillips recruited a lot of those guys. #Gators— Sentinel Gators beat (@osgators) September 23, 2013
Phillips knows which defenders the Gators can exploit.
Although Mark Stoops is knowledgeable about the Florida offense from his tenure at Florida State, his advantage is smaller because he did not have to previously prepare for Murphy or Patton.
The wild card will be Murphy. His ability to run will open up the field and cause a few breakdowns in coverage. If he can get the ball to his Gator receivers, then the Florida offense will roll.
The Gators have been decimated by the injury bug—starting QB Jeff Driskel (out for the year) and several others will miss the game—but they still have enough personnel to cruise to a 27th straight victory over their conference foe. If his receivers play to their ability, Phillips will find himself on the right side of the score for once.
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