Florida focuses on Abney

September 24, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Florida has changed starting quarterbacks for its game against Kentucky here Saturday.

Florida coach Ron Zook, though, is also hoping for a change in another area - special teams - when the 25th-ranked Gators try to beat Kentucky for the 17th straight time.

Last season Derek Abney became only the seventh player in NCAA history to return both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown in the same game in UK's 41-34 loss. Kentucky's Dustin Williams also blocked a punt that led to another touchdown.

"Obviously we gave Kentucky 20 points last year off special teams and we were lucky to win," said Zook. "We've stressed that a lot not just this week, but all season. I feel like we are much-improved in that area, but Kentucky has a returner that is the real deal. He's not only done it to us, but he's done it to a lot of people. We have to focus on him."


Zook's emphasis on special teams play is shown in the Southeastern Conference statistics. Florida was 11th in the league in kickoff returns and seventh in punt returns last year. This season the Gators rank first and sixth, respectively, in those areas.

Abney has yet to score on a return this season after returning six for touchdowns last year. He's averaging 28.4 yards per kickoff return, third best in the SEC, but only five yards per return on five punts.

"It's easier for teams to kick away from you on punts," Abney said. "But I think we're getting closer to breaking one."

Kentucky coach Rich Brooks hopes so. He spent extra time in practice Monday working on blocking the opponent's primary punt return coverage players.

"We've got to get the punt return untracked," Brooks said. "We have not done as good a job as I would like blocking the gunners (outside defenders)."

Zook announced Monday that he would not alternate sophomore Ingle Martin and freshman Chris Leak at quarterback Saturday as he had in the first four games. Instead, Leak will get his first start.

Leak was 9-of-12 passing for 76 yards in last week's loss to Tennessee, but he dropped a perfect shotgun snap on his first series, threw a late interception and produced zero points in four possessions.

Gators more likely to try downfield passes

Zook indicated that having Leak in the game may make it more likely that his team will try more downfield passes than it has in the first four games.

"Will we throw downfield a little bit more?" Zook said. "There's a strong possibility of that."

Brooks said no matter who plays quarterback, Florida still has a potent offense. The Gators had a 33-10 lead over Miami late in the third quarter before losing 38-33. Florida's offense has produced 25 plays of 20 or more yards, including seven on runs. The Gators lead the league in scoring at 42.8 points per game and are fourth in rushing (178 yards per game) and passing (271 yards per game).

"They do about the same things no matter who the quarterback is. It's not like the offense will change drastically if Leak is the starter," Brooks said. "They will still use a lot of three-receiver sets and they go no-huddle a lot, which could make us play more cornerbacks and safeties than linebackers and defensive linemen.

"They have a physical offensive line and talented running backs. They like to spread you out and run the ball. We've struggled with our run defense and last week gave up way too many plays of 20 yards or more. We had way too many breakdowns in the defensive line."

While Brooks thought end Jeremy Caudill had his best game, he was not as pleased with nose guard Ellery Moore. That's why freshman Lamar Mills will make his first start Saturday.

"I'm ready to do whatever I can," Mills said. "I know we have to be able to stop the run. I just have to make sure I do my assignment and then let my teammates take care of everything else."

Florida's defense is giving up 320 yards per game. That's only 60 yards fewer than the Cats are allowing each game.

"Last week (against Indiana) was the first time we've mixed the run and pass well," Brooks said. "It was against a good defense, but not a great defense. Our blocking was better. The option opened the running game. How that matches up with Florida's speed remains to be seen. But we are getting better running the ball and that should help us get the ball down the field more."

UK Notes:

* Quarterback Jared Lorenzen has 9,090 total offensive yards and needs 152 more to pass Florida's Shane Matthews for fourth on the SEC career offensive list. He also needs 234 yards passing to move into the sixth spot on the SEC passing list.

* Kentucky leads the SEC in quarterback sacks with 14 and is also first in kickoff coverage at 15.7 yards per return.

* The Wildcats have scored on 11 of 12 opportunities inside the 20-yard line. Opponents have converted 11 of 16 times.

* Defensive end Vincent Burns is third in the nation in tackles for loss with 10.5, an average of 2.67 per game. Safety Muhammad Abdullah is tied for sixth nationally in interceptions (.75 per game) and linebacker Deion Holts is seventh in sacks (1.17 per game).

Central Kentucky News Articles