COLUMN: Losing to Florida no big deal

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Relax, everything is fine.

Take a long, deep breath. Now slowly release, and then repeat. Don’t be upset. Poppa Howard is here (I know, the father you never wanted).

As 90,000+ Gator fans swayed back and forth, locked arm-in-arm, belting their beloved fight song at the end of the third quarter Saturday, it was distracting. In fact, it was downright difficult to keep from thinking of the final scene of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” (you know, the one where they all stand around the tree and sing). I nearly enjoyed it.

It was the only thing worthy of most fans’ attention.

Anyhow, it is understandable everyone wanted to beat Florida, but it wasn’t part of the master plan. And that is okay. Deep down, many UK fans knew the defeat that awaited their team entering Saturday’s game, but nobody wanted to admit it.

The game was billed as the best, and possibly only, chance for the Blue and White to knock off the team that has dominated them in recent years. So, of course people were excited when even the professionals made it out to be a game to see.

But just think, it never really seemed reasonable for an unranked UK team to march into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and knock off a team who was then No. 9 in the country, has won two BCS championships in the past four years and has now beaten the Cats in 24 consecutive meetings.

It’s actually less surprising UK had it handed to them than it was for me to refer to myself as “Poppa Howard” in the lead.

UK fans saw a lot of good and a lot of bad Saturday (let’s cover the latter first).

The bad: The Cats were blown out. They allowed nearly 300 yards through the air against a team that was ranked 103rd in passing offense prior to the game. Trey Burton, a freshman quarterback, scored six touchdowns, tailback Derrick Locke and receiver Randall Cobb were shut down, and quarterback Mike Hartline threw his first two interceptions of the season. Whew.

“We just had some miscommunications, some errors. You can’t have that in the SEC,” junior linebacker Danny Trevathan said of the 48 points allowed. “We just have to minimize that ASAP because we have SEC games coming up quick. Everything we do, we have to get straight quick.”

Now, the good: Senior receiver Chris Matthews had a career-high game in both receiving yards and touchdowns, something UK head coach Joker Phillips has been awaiting. Despite the loss, it was a lively game for a while. Though behind, UK was competitive, not better than, but competitive with Florida for about two and half quarters — it showed potential.

“It’s just a play here and there,” UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. “They just kept pecking at the dam…we can’t let them keep chipping away because, well, you guys have seen what happens then.”

Florida was never the real litmus test, anyway. Sure, it would have been huge had UK won. But it was a mere blip on the road to what fans hope is a Southeastern Conference East title.

The real proving grounds will come next week at Ole Miss, where many followers are hanging the Cats’ season fate.

“We obviously have a long way to go, but there is a lot to learn from (the loss),” Brown said. “(UK) played hard, they tried to do the right things. You just have to give a lot of credit to Florida…it is a hard, hard lesson to learn, but you have to stay optimistic. It’s tough pill to swallow, but we have to keep it upbeat and prepare for Ole Miss.”

For UK players and fans alike, just put this one behind you. It was a lofty dream anyway. One game, especially a loss to a top-10 team, is not indicative of the young season. The Cats are far, far from being down and out.