When the Florida Gators pour forth from Commonwealth Stadium and onto the field Saturday, they will meet Rich Brooks’ Kentucky Wildcats in a match that will mark the return of this long-standing SEC contest to early season play.
But even though the Gators and Wildcats have met every year since 1948, and Florida currently owns a 22 game winning streak over Kentucky, this matchup has evolved into something of an afterthought.
Particularly since the Gators' schedule has Kentucky sandwiched between high-profile matchups with Tennessee and LSU.
One doesn’t have to search far to see that comments regarding Urban Meyer’s showdown with Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin are still making headlines. To make things worse, news is already being made regarding the Gators' road trip to Baton Rouge which is over two weeks away.
Even the news pertaining to the Kentucky game is more focused on Florida’s offensive ills—both figuratively and literally—and angled toward how Meyer and his staff will correct these problems in time for more important tasks down the road.
To many, the Kentucky game is getting lost in the fog…
Sure, there’s plenty of reason to become a bit complacent over Kentucky. There have been numerous Florida blowouts both in the Swamp and at Commonwealth Stadium in the past. But every few years the Wildcats, playing at home at night and in ugly weather, put up a tremendous fight leaving the Gators feeling lucky to have escaped with a win.
This year, Kentucky’s Rich Brooks and his defensive coordinator, Steve Brown would love nothing more than to drag this game out of the basement and make some noise in an attempt to unseat the top ranked Gators while putting to rest one of the longest losing streaks in the nation.
With all this in mind, here are the seven things that Urban Meyer, the Gators, and the Gator Nation do not want to see this weekend.
Regardless of what has come out of Gainesville or been printed over the last week, there are issues that need to be addressed regarding the Gators' passing attack.
Rest assured, Meyer and his staff have been working overtime this week to return this element of the offense from stepchild to its rightful place as an equal contributor of Meyer's spread option.
But getting the Gators' offense back on track will be even more difficult if the clouds gather and the drops start to fall in Lexington. Combine that with a game under the lights, and cooler temps, and you have one heck of an environment to try and get things going again.
Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Kentucky Wildcats, is not known for being a particularly loud or intimidating venue, but this will be Florida’s first road test.
Over the last three games, the Gator offense has shown remarkable improvement when relaying plays and signal changes from the booth to the huddle. However perfect this practice has been tuned at home, the real test comes when you are in a hostile environment.
Florida needs to put the crowd to bed early. If they don’t, then they face having to work with a revamped offense, potentially in the rain, and in front of 60,000 fans smelling blood.
Any More Players in the Infirmary
Brandon Spikes and Deonte Thompson are listed as probable due to field injuries. They join at least ten other Gators who are on the flu sick list.
Lane Kiffin may have scoffed at the thought of the flu impacting a team like Florida but anyone who has suffered from the flu, "Swine" or any other, knows that this is no laughing matter.
Although the few who came down early are showing signs of a strong recovery, preparation time was missed during Florida’s most important practice week since the season started.
Expect more news on this front regardless.
A Game Plan Similar To That Used Against Tennessee
As much criticism as Meyer and his Gators have received over the confusing display of offense last week, the bottom line is that they won the game.
However, winning in Lexington depends on moving the ball quickly, scoring early, and forcing the Wildcats to play catch-up.
This can be accomplished with a return to a very balanced running/passing game. The aerial attack needs to be present even if Tebow has to chuck the ball into the stands once per drive.
If there isn’t any sign of passing life, then the Gator offense will fail to push the corners off the wideouts and keep the safeties honest.
The Gators would rather not have to slug it out on the ground a second week in a row.
The Back of Derrick Locke’s Jersey
Kentucky’s Derrick Locke ran a kickoff back 100 yards and scored a touchdown in last week’s derby against Louisville. His score was the difference in winning the game for the Wildcats.
Florida’s special teams are excellent but Kentucky has found someone with the speed and power to be truly called a return specialist.
The Gators cannot afford to take kickoff and punt coverage for granted. They have to focus on covering lane assignments and containing the return—even if it means avoiding over-runs.
Brandon James on the Sideline
If illness and performance issues are the root of the offensive woes for the Gators, then it’s time to see Brandon James double, or triple his touches this Saturday.
Tebow was tasked with carrying the ball over 20 times against Tennessee and the Gators cannot afford to expose him this much every game. His use as a ball carrier should be rare enough to warrant attention while not becoming predictable.
Brandon has the speed and the hands to translate 15-20 plays into big yards and several points. This could be a defining game for this future NFL’er.
Tebow looking Somber or Angry
Last week’s performance from the Heisman hopeful was gutsy and raw but a bit clumsy and ugly too.
When Tebow gets frustrated he tucks the ball, lowers his head, and plows forward. Just like what happened against the Volunteers. But his demeanor after his errors last week seemed to affect the rest of the team.
Against Kentucky, Meyer has to keep Tebow focused and positive. Tebow needs solid play-calling from the bench, proper execution on the part of his mates, and good personal decision making.
Tebow got his first taste of real pressure this season against Tennessee last weekend, and it showed. Against Kentucky, he needs to get his non-up-the-gut mojo back and return to being the quarterback that passed, handed off, and rushed for a national championship last year.