During the excruciating 29 year Florida losing streak, there’s been a few that slipped away at the game’s end. Tonight’s loss trumped the Chris Doering last second touchdown catch, as well as every other “close but no cigar” game against the Gators. In the foreseeable future, Florida will never be as vulnerable as it was on Saturday. He may be inclined to sideline tirades, but Jim McElwain is a good coach at a school with deep pockets in a recruiting rich state that demands football excellence. The Gators are going nowhere but up from here. IF the streak was to end, tonight was the night. Of course that’s been said before and I’m sure will be said again. And yet, another one got away.
There were many reasons that Florida won the football game. Contrary to popular belief, Florida won the football game more so than Kentucky lost it. The Gators were the aggressors and forced intolerable Wildcat errors. Kentucky had chances, but folded at critical moments. First and goal at the two that eventually led to a field goal is one. Following extended film study, another “Eye in the Sky Don’t Lie” piece will be written Monday afternoon. We’ll dissect the Xs and Os, but for today’s post, raw emotion and immediate reaction seems more appropriate.
GAME BALL GOES TO?
Easy choice, the fans of the BBN did their part, and more. It showed up early, glowed in all things Cat Walk and then packed the stands from the opening kick to the last inevitable interception. For that, my hat’s off to you. Heck, I’m proud to be one of you. Sorry the game flowed and ended like it did, you deserved better. But the BBN left angry. Not so much that the streak was extended for another 365 days, but more so that it felt as if its team was better than the visitors. In many ways that was painfully correct. Execution wise, not so much.
Perception was that Florida dominated the football game. Take a look at the final numbers. Oddly, much closer than it felt.
First Downs: UF 16, UK 14
Net Rushing Yards: UF 120, UK 115
Average Yards Per Rush: UF 3.2, UK 2.8
Net Yards Passing: UF 125, UK 126
Total Offensive Yards: UF 245, UK 241
3rd Down Conversions: UF 2-11, UK 6-18
Sacks: UF 6, UK 2
Final Score: UF 14, UK 9. The only numbers that really matter.
Numbers are deceiving. A 14-9 game never seemed that close. Following Dorian Baker’s first quarter dropped touchdown pass and tipped ball that All-American Vernon Heargraves III intercepted and returned deep into UK territory, at no point did it feel like UK would win the football game. Yes, that includes when the Cats had the football down five with 2:26 remaining in the game. It just didn’t feel right. I’m ashamed to write that, but an honest assessment. Could it be the streak infiltrated my mind and led to a worst case scenario expectation due to logo familiarity? Not sure, that’s what’s so troubling. That’s also what’s so disappointing, leading to more self-inflicted anger due to late-game skepticism.
Holding Florida to 14 points was an accomplishment. Much like against South Carolina, DJ Eliot’s group bent but did not break. From Regie Meant’s early sack to JD Harmon’s end zone interception, the defense played winning football. The unit that was questioned the most has played the best. Much like the fans, the defense deserved to win the football game.
Sure, Will Grier slipped away from sacks and made big plays that extended drives. But limiting the Gators to 245 total yards and one touchdown on an extended drive is commendable. Defensive tackle CJ Johnson and defensive end Farrington Huguennin were exceptional. As were the defensive backs. Florida’s leading wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was held to three catches for 16 yards. That’s the same Demarcus Robinson that torched the Cats in the Swamp last year for 15 receptions, 215 yards and a score. Gator running backs totaled all of 66 rushing yards. Again, Will Grier’s ability to escape impacted, but did not dictate the final score. Linebackers Josh Forrest and Khalid Henderson led the Cats with nine and eight tackles respectfully. Denzil Ware displayed continued development. The game’s irony is the side of the football that was expected to fail, actually prevailed in all areas other than the final score.
Where should we start? Statistically, the Cats and Gators were virtually even. However, UK’s incompetent passing game must be addressed. Patrick Towles’ 8-for-24 and two interception game will be the most scrutinized aspect, as it should be. It comes with the territory; with high expectation comes even higher examination. The Cats completed 33% of its passing attempts. There were drops. There were sacks and quarterback hurries. Some self-inflicted by Towles, others derived from Gator coverage and defensive line dominance. Collectively, the passing game was insufficient and problematic. Florida’s defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. That’s actually being kind. Going into the game, the Gators’ defensive line was described as aggressive and disruptive. It didn’t disappoint. Florida’s secondary was proclaimed as one if not the SEC’s best. It was. However, New Mexico State and East Carolina were both successful through the air against virtually the same defense, in the Swamp. Florida did return its best player in Heargraves as well as Safety Keanu Neal. But still…
Should there now be a quarterback controversy? Is Patrick Towles the answer going forward? Yes, with a caveat. If inaccuracy and passing game ineffectiveness continue against Missouri, then serious and season determining questions must be addressed. I am not a fan of rotating QBs. Nor is there value in a starter continually looking over his shoulder following an incompletion. But there’s no way around it: Patrick has to produce.
One of the few encouragements was Boom Williams. 16 carries for 82 yards was a herculean effort for the sophomore. But he got very little help. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was second guessed in the press box and in the stands. Justifiably or not, he is now under the BBN’s microscope. Similar to the quarterback position, scrutiny accompanies the job title. UK has not scored an offensive touchdown in six quarters. With Mizzou coming to town with an equal to or better defense than Florida, it doesn’t get any easier moving forward. On that side of the football, some serious soul searching and self-evaluation will occur leading up to next Saturday’s critical SEC matchup. Do the issues lie within personnel, scheme, youth, or strictly in execution? Did the plethora of future Gator NFL players simply overwhelm the Cats? Those answers or lingering questions will be evident against Mizzou. One way or another, improvements in all offensive categories are mandatory.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Saturday’s loss to Florida was a reality check wrapped into an opportunity. When the team’s concern (defense) is now its strength and the team’s perceived strength (offense) is now its liability, a convoluted conclusion surfaces. Inconsistent halves and Saturday’s disappointment has the BBN collectively scratching their heads. As of this Sunday afternoon, the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats are without an identity. Going into the fourth game, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With a young team, it’s also somewhat expected. Effort, intent, desire, and work ethic are all there, but results are still being sorted.
The Missouri Tigers. Mizzou scraped by UCONN on a botched last minute field goal attempt that would have tied the game at 9-9. The Tigers are not exactly an offensive juggernaut. However, it does sport a salty defense with elite linebackers and secondary, and a recent history of developing NFL defensive linemen. Sound familiar?
Playing off Missouri’s state moniker: UK has to Show Me. It has to prove it can score points. The offensive line has to prove it can protect a quarterback who is dangerously close to being questioned if he is indeed the future of the organization. A talented receiving corps needs results to match potential. UK has much to prove and six days in which to prepare.
One of the beautiful qualities of college football is that players get over losses much more quickly than fans do. You can throw the media in there as well. The 29th consecutive Gator loss stung, a lot. Heck, it went past stung and straight into hysterical annoyance. One got away. UK cannot play Florida again next weekend. A potential 3-1 September is Wildcat football utopia given recent history. I’m all in. But also need to see tangible offensive improvement.
Show Me. Please.