Mark Stoops set the tone Monday afternoon. In a meeting with his team, the Kentucky head coach prepared his players for a physical week of football ahead of the top 25 showdown with Florida.
“You can already see that in practice,” super senior tight end Brenden Bates told KSR Tuesday evening. “The coaches are doing a tremendous job of emphasizing the physicality that we need to bring for this game. This was a Tuesday practice. It was extremely physical and my skull is throbbing. I’m feeling ready to roll.”
One cannot win football games on brute force alone. Kentucky is the second-most penalized team in the SEC. Coaches brought officials to practice and told them to call it tight, particularly in the trenches, to prepare the Big Blue Wall for a tall task against Florida’s impressive defensive line.
“They’re disruptive up front. They probably move and pressure more than anything we’ve seen up to date,” said offensive coordinator Liam Coen.
“It’s gonna be a challenge, but I think our guys have started off on the right foot today and yesterday was a great start, but we have to match that intensity and play to the standard I wish we played at a few more times in the Vanderbilt game more consistently.”
Florida Defense will throw Movement at Kentucky Offensive Line
Florida’s rush defense is among the best in the SEC, second only to Kentucky, allowing just 82 yards on the ground per game. The Gators defensive line is coached by Sean Spencer, who was an assistant for UMass when Coen was in college. The Kentucky offensive coordinator knows the Gators will come at Kentucky in waves.
“They’re well coached. They do a great job using their hands at the point of attack and shedding blocks. This week truly is all about demeanor, mentality, fundamentals and technique as much as we can. If we lunge and put our heads down, we are going to whiff. We won’t win too many of those battles. So this is a huge week about fundamentals and technique, and… blocking movement is going to be a huge thing.”
Blocking “movement” has been a problem for the Kentucky offensive line over the last two-plus seasons. The Gators will slant and stunt their defensive lineman into gaps to try to confuse opponents and create havoc. The coaches are throwing everything they can at the offensive line on ‘Terrible Tuesday’ and ‘Wicked Wednesday’ to get the group ready for Saturday.
“Blocking movement is the hardest thing to do in college football,” said Coen. “It’s the hardest thing to do upfront, unless you just run one scheme, and just block it and block it and block it. We don’t do that. We’re a little bit more diverse in the run game at times, so it’s a challenge…
… We’re giving them as much crap that we can throw at them as we possibly can, maybe even a little overload. It’s frustrating on Tuesday. It’s a little bit more frustrating on Wednesday. But we’re hoping that at the end of this thing, that you’re getting better at blocking movement, so we’re working at it. But you know, things happen fast.”
Eli Cox, who is permanently moving back to center for the rest of the 2023 season, is embracing the challenge.
“It puts a lot on our plate but you know, these are the types of games you come to Kentucky to play in. You get a top ranked SEC team at home. You couldn’t ask for much more.”
This is what the Wildcats Love
This iteration of the Kentucky football team is slightly different than its successful predecessors under Mark Stoops. Entering the Vanderbilt game Kentucky had the fewest rushing attempts in the SEC. Just because they’re throwing the ball around more with Devin Leary, doesn’t mean they’re shying away from contact against the Gators.
“We have an interesting rivalry with with Florida. Every time we get to play them, we bring it in practice every time. I’m sure what they’re telling over there is Kentucky is gonna bring it and that’s kind of the standard here,” said Brenden Bates.
The tight end has been a part of three Kentucky wins over the Gators. He’s fired up to add another one.
“I’m pumped. I’m pumped that it’s noon. I’m pumped to just get rolling, show the Gators what Kentucky football’s about — physicality — and get the job done.”