Sucker punched: Cats fall to Florida 48-10, extend streak to 25



On the same day former UK quarterback Bill Ransdall, the last quarterback to defeat Florida in 1986, was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame, the Gators were in town seeking their 25th consecutive win over the Cats. Florida made sure the streak was never in doubt, beating up on UK early and often on its way to a 48-10 victory in Commonwealth Stadium.

“Our kids are fighting, scratching and clawing,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said. “We’re just not playing very smart. They’ll continue to fight. I believe in those guys, but we’ve got to get some things corrected, and this begins with me.”

The Cats, who have had trouble getting going at the start games this year, got off to a hot start against Florida Saturday, forcing a three-and-out by the Gators deep in their own territory off the opening kickoff. The Cats hung with the Gators athletic pro-style offense, trading punts early.

But with the UK offense driving mid-way through the first quarter, freshman running back Josh Clemons fumbled the ball, turning it over to Florida. On the next play, Florida quarterback John Brantley found his tight end Gerald Christian open deep down the middle of the field for a 45-yard touchdown.

After that, the floodgates opened and UK was never able to threaten its SEC East counterpart again. The offense struggled once again, suffering missed blocks, poor communication, dropped passes and turnovers. UK turned the ball over four times on the evening, including two interceptions and a fumble on the goal line by Newton, as well as the Clemons fumble.

“Something has to change, something has to give, and right now we’re not taking care of the football,” junior wide receiver La’Rod King said. “You can’t do that. Four turnovers — you’re not beating a team, like nobody. So that has to change quick.”

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UK Football 2011: Florida – Images by Kentucky Kernel

Clemons, the victim of the early fumble that shifted the momentum in Florida’s favor, left the game with a strained hamstring, leaving Phillips to rely primarily on third-string junior running back CoShik Williams. The offensive line, which consisted of UK’s five original preseason starters for the first time in 2011, was still unable to establish any kind of threat running. UK rushed for a very quiet 134 yards for the game.

But the Cats’ struggles in the run game were dwarfed by their inability to find consistency passing the ball. Junior quarterback Morgan Newton looked anxious in the pocket, forcing throws high or into traffic while missing wide open receivers in space. When Newton was able to get the ball to his targets, they had trouble holding onto the football, whether it be dropped passes, fumbles or deflections resulting in interceptions.

“Turnovers will kill you, and they did,” Newton said. “They gave them short fields and a lot of good teams are going to capitalize on those short fields and get some points out of them. We just have to do better in that regard.”

The defense, which held its ground against Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’ explosive offense early, wore down as the game progressed and was unable to keep the Cats in the game while the offense faltered.

“They were fast,” senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed, a Florida-native, said. “We always feel like we have a good shot at beating any team. When we come out and the score is run up, it gets under your skin and we just have to go back to the drawing boards and try to figure out what we did wrong and what we need to do to correct those issues.”

The Cats’ defense allowed Florida to gain 520 total yards for the game as opposed to just 299 from UK. Brantley finished the game with 115 yards through the air and one touchdown, but it was Florida’s ground game that left the Cats helpless in their home stadium.

Florida running backs Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Mike Gillislee combined for 31 rushes for 346 yards and three touchdowns. In addition, Trey Burton, another running back who scored six times against UK in 2010, carried the ball six times for 33 yards and a touchdown of his own.

“The speed of the game, it’s kind of like lightning struck the outhouse and we were in it,” UK co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. “Our kids, they try hard, but the speed of that game is as fast a game as you’ll see all year because of the speed of the players.”

Senior linebacker Danny Trevathan did his best to keep UK close, clobbering Brantley in the second quarter, forcing a fumble that would lead to UK’s only touchdown of the evening and knocking Brantley out of the game for the remainder of the half. Still, UK trailed 31-10 at halftime, and UK was never able to scratch and claw its way back into the game.

As the Florida’s lead grew larger, fans began to express their frustrations towards Newton and Phillips. In the fourth quarter, Phillips removed Newton from the game in favor of freshman backup quarterback Maxwell Smith. For the quarter, Smith was 6-11 for 41 yards, but Phillips assured Big Blue Nation that the Cats do not have a quarterback controversy.

“Every opportunity we have to get Max in the game, we will, and we had an opportunity tonight,” Phillips said. “If we’re struggling at quarterback, we know that the guy can go in there and handle himself. He did a decent job tonight, so this experience gives us that opportunity.”

The focus for the Cats now turns to a visit to No. 2 ranked Louisiana State on Oct. 1. Newton said he treats each week like its own one game season, and that he will learn from the loss and move on. But after losses the last two weeks, a road game against LSU is a daunting task, and Minter is aware of the situation his team is in.

“In football, you’re only as good as your last time out, so we’re not very good tonight, not very good last week,” Minter said. “We got a lot of work to do.”