Cats believe they can beat Florida

September 24, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - History apparently doesn't mean much to the University of Kentucky football team.

The Wildcats have lost 16 straight games to Florida going into Saturday's Southeastern Conference matchup here. Kentucky's last win came in 1986, long before any of the current players on either team were probably even watching college football.

Both teams will bring 2-2 records into the game, but the Gators are still a nine-point favorite.

"We are still playing a quality opponent," said Kentucky coach Rich Brooks. "They are coming off a tough loss (to Tennessee), but they will still be a major factor in this conference."

Still, Kentucky's players insisted Monday that they are not in awe of the Gators. Last year the Cats had a chance to win before losing 41-34. Derek Abney became just the seventh player in NCAA history to return both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown in the same game and also caught a scoring pass.


"I still think back about how we could have won that game," Abney said. "We had the lead (28-25), but just didn't finish the game. We have a chance to make up for that now and I guarantee you that we all believe we can win."

Count safety Muhammad Abdullah, who has a team-high three interceptions, in that group.

"I didn't play against Florida last year. I didn't play in any of those games that Kentucky lost to Florida. That's history and doesn't have anything to do with this week's game," Abdullah said. "We know we can win."

The Cats know it won't be easy. Florida has lost to Miami and Tennessee, both undefeated and ranked among the nation's top teams. The Gators have a balanced offense and potent ground game, something Kentucky has had trouble stopping this season.

"It will take a perfect game for us to win," Abney said. "We will need to take care of the ball, maybe get a few turnovers of our own on defense and make some big plays on special teams. If we do that, we can win."

Brooks was encouraged by his team's overall play in last week's 34-17 win at Indiana. He thought defensive tackle Jeremy Caudill, cornerback Leonard Burress, offensive guard Matt Huff, quarterback Jared Lorenzen, punter Anthony Thornton, running back Arliss Beach and linebacker Deion Holts all had their best games of the year.

Beach will start

Brooks said that Beach, who had 46 yards on 10 carries, would move into the starting lineup against 25th-ranked Florida ahead of Draak Davis.

"He's earned the chance to play more," Brooks said.

Thornton was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging 46.6 yards per punt on seven kicks, including a career-best punt of 58 yards.Thornton is averaging 42.2 yards per punt, the third best mark in the Southeastern Conference.

"What I want to see now is for his consistency to carry over," Brooks said. "He's had days like that, or moments in a day like that, but it would really be good if it could become a habit."

Brooks would like to make beating quality conference opponents a habit, too.

"We've got to get it done," the Kentucky coach said. "History is we haven't beaten them since 1976. Jerry Claiborne was coaching then. That's a long damn time. We've got to change it. We've just got to find a way to change it."

Brooks hopes it will help motivate his team that upsets have been plentiful this season. Northern Illinois has already beaten both Maryland and Alabama. However, he knows even if Kentucky could win Saturday, it takes more than one victory to establish a new trend when it comes to beating traditional powers.

"We are talking about two SEC teams that have a history and I don't like that tradition," Brooks said. "There is not any one game that changes or reverses a trend. You've got to do it more than once.

"We go to Alabama and lose. That always happens. We were in the game, but we did not get it done. Since 1986, Kentucky has not beat Florida. Do I believe we have a chance to win? Absolutely. We've got to execute, play better and take the ball away from them. This is a chance to do something about history. It's just up to us to get it done."

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