Kentucky comes to town next for Florida fans. Contrary to popular perception, the Kentucky rivalry has been a particularly rich and storied one of late for Florida. Consider the following:
--The 2003 game, where a young Chris Leak went into Kentucky and nearly lost before Jared Lorenzen, evidently displaying the panicked frustration signalling the advent of an acute need to defecate immediately, crapped away Kentucky's biggest chance at an upset by heaving a prayer into the arms of Johnny Lamar, who happily trucked downfield to ice a fourth-quarter collapse for Kentucky. The dangers of wearing white pants as a football player become doubly apparent when you consider the hazards of not being able to shit yourself on field--let Lorenzen be a warning to you all.
--The 1994 game, where Old Testament Spurrier put 73 points up on Kentucky in retaliation for Bill Curry, the Kentucky coach at the time, not retaining Spurrier as an assistant at Georgia Tech. Google "florida kentucky 73" and the first thing you will get is an article about a basketball score. This fact is very, very cool.
--Or take any game where Florida faced Hal Mumme. Mumme so irked Spurrier that the OBC hung 50 on Captain Combover three times, often defying the rules of engagement just to get another shot at scoring on someone he undoubtedly thought of as a Poor Man's Version of himself.
--Or last year, where Florida scored 35 points in the second quarter.
A special man with a special hairstyle: Hal Mumme.
But hope springs eternal for the footballers of the Bluegrass State, whose 675 dedicated fans who haven't jumped ship to root for the Death Star That Is Louisville Cardinal Football will travel to Gainesville to appreciate the quality thoroughbred horse farms of North Central Florida, the blazing hot September weather, and the less-than-laserlike focus of a Florida team likely to obliterate the Wildcats anyway. The average margin of victory over the past five years has shrunk to 17.8 points for Florida, but even Louisville Courier-Journal Wildcat beat writer Bret Dawson has little hope for the 'Cats in this game. He spoke with us yesterday.
OS: I'll begin with this question: What hope does 2006 present in year three of the purgatorial Rich Brooks era?
BD: Well, if there's hope, it's in the numbers. Kentucky is over 80 scholarship players for the first time since Brooks arrived, and the freshman class is the best he's recruited to date. And the schedule plays out in Kentucky's favor. With two wins out of the way and some winnable games ahead, some improvement would seem almost inevitable.
OS: I restrained myself from asking what the third win would be, since that's been the ceiling thus far.
BD: It would seem like they could get at least a couple more out of Central Michigan, UL-Monroe, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, though nothing is (or has ever been) a given with Kentucky football.
OS: Why did they bring Brooks back?
BD: I think the recruiting class was strong enough -- and the situation he had inherited dire enough -- that you could pretty easily justify giving him another chance.
BD: Plus, last year was a strange one.
They lost a number of key contributors to injury over the course of the year. In the offseason, they had more than 30 surgeries.
Rich Brooks: would like Kitty to fix him a tall one before he sits down to watch the Packers, please.
OS: UK got a discount on that surgery via the med school, right? That's your budget there. So briefly, what will we see scheme-wise on Saturday on both sides of the ball?
BD: Offensively, Kentucky's going to throw the ball. That's been their strength, and they're going to stick with it (in part because -- with or without a hobbling Rafael Little -- they're going to struggle to run against Florida). The Gators might see a slightly different look, because without starting fullback John Conner (out with turf toe), Kentucky goes a little bit bigger in the backfield. Maurice Grinter probably gets the most snaps at that position, and he's a big body who can catch passes out of the backfield. UK has used both of its quick, small backs, Little and Tony Dixon, at the same time on some plays. I doubt they'll do that much against the Gators.
The Cats play a 4-3, but you're going to see them in a lot of nickel and dime against Florida's spread. Brooks said this week that he'll sometimes use only one linebacker, meaning his most talented freshman, Micah Johnson, isn't likely to see a lot of snaps this week.
OS: Considering what you've seen, how's Florida looking?
BD: I admit I've seen almost none of Florida because of Kentucky's schedule, but they must be doing something right. The fact that they held Tennessee to negative rushing yards is staggering. In talking to the Kentucky coaches, I gathter that the Gators are doing what most of Urban Meyer's teams have done -- getting dramatically better in the second year of his system.
OS: Who should we notice on offense? Who should we notice on defense? And how's the punter? He'll be busy.
BD: QB Andre' Woodson is dramatically improved. He'll still take a sack, but his pocket presence is much better. He's thrown nine touchdown passes, one more than he had in his first two seasons combined.
Andre Woodson: surprisingly un-bad.
WR Dicky Lyons Jr. leads the nation in TD receptions with six. But the best player on Kentucky's offense is WR Keenan Burton. He draws so much attention that Dicky Lyons Jr. leads the nation in TD receptions with six.
OS: And the punter?
BD: Tim Masthay. He's been good but not great, averaging 39.9 yards per punt. The kicking situation is a question mark, but the return game is far and away Kentucky's strength, as it was last year.
OS: Clay Travis, a friend of the site, agress with us that the use of pompoms by grown men is sissified and devoid of dignity. Agree/disagree?
BD: I am trying to think of a circumstance in which the use of pompoms by men is acceptable, and am drawing a blank.
OS: As in Alabama and Auburn fans using them at games.They call them "shakers." Kentucky fans don't have these, do they?
BD: I think they do, on occasion, break out a shaker.
OS: For shame.
The spread on this game is 24 points. Accurate? Or do we need to break out the scientific notation for this one?
BD: I should answer this question with the caveat that not only do I not gamble, but I'm horrid at picking games against the spread. That said, it seems about right. So do with that as you will.
OS: For entertainment purposes only! Who is Kentucky worrying the most about in their gameplanning, as far as you can tell?
BD: They're certainly concerned with Chris Leak. In a perfect world, they want him feeling some pressure and at least having to make some plays on the move. Their concern is how dangerous he can be when he can stand in the pocket and make plays.
But they also are very, very concerned with his wide receivers, especially given their inexperience in the secondary.
OS: Sounds good to us, of course. Finally: you're blogging now, right?
BD: I am. As is everyone in my business, it seems.
OS: Yes, but most seem to think a blog is just a column with a weird header on it.
BD: Wait... that's not what it is?
OS: We have an online course you can take. In your eyes, have they changed the discourse we call sports talk?
BD: I'm not sure, honestly, that they've had as significant an impact on it as the message boards.
OS: No kidding.
BD: But of course, the internet has changed a lot about sports, and specifically about sports journalism.
OS: One example, perhaps, of that in your corner of the world.
BD: I think the ultimate example is the simplest: the day-to-day monitoring of the message boards by reporters. I check them daily, as to most other beat writers I know. It's no secret to say there's a lot of nonsense spewed there, but also no stretch to say that there are sometimes fans who, with the benefit of access to those in the know and the anonymity of the board, know a heck of a lot about what's going on in a program.
But if you want a specific example: Our paper has just created a position specifically to cover recruiting. And we're not the first. That's clearly an internet-driven move.
OS: Final question: what's Brooks' saving win total?
BD: Some people say five. But their attendance has taken a pretty big hit already. I think he needs six and a bowl bid to make it to next season.
OS: And the possibility of that happening is...
BD: Let's say 50-50. Kentucky seems to find ways to lose games you think it should win, but the Wildcats are better this week than they were last. If they keep improving steadily, it's not far-fetched to think they could sweep the four games I mentioned earlier.
Then again, they could go 1-3.
That's the mystery of Kentucky football. Keeps it exciting.
OS: We lied about the finally. This is the last question: what's a Kentucky gameday tradition we may not know about that's worth talking about?
BD: Bar none, the best is the October "Kentucky Double," in which fans hit Keeneland race track in the afternoon and a night game at Commonwealth Stadium. It's so good that some out-of-town fans are furious when their October night games at Kentucky get moved to the daytime for TV.
OS: Excellent! Considering the number of EDSBS reader with gambling problems, we'll pass that on with much speed.
Thanks for joining us Bret. What's your blog link so we can plug it?
OS: Thanks so much. Talk to you later.
BD: No problem.
Bret Dawson is the beat writer for Kentucky football at the Louisville Courier-Journal. In his spare time he covers refugee affairs, infant abuse cases, and other things as depressing as Kentucky football.