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Gators’ special teams, blocked punts key to Kentucky game

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Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 11:55 pm | Updated: 11:57 pm, Wed Sep 21, 2011.

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips knows his team has a real challenge on its hands this weekend.

He also knows a sure-fire way for the Wildcats to succumb to the No. 15 Gators: Give up a blocked punt.

“(It) becomes hard to win games, period, when you get a punt blocked,” Phillips said Wednesday.

In a 24-17 loss to in-state rival Louisville last week, Kentucky surrendered one in the second quarter. While the Cardinals were unable to immediately capitalize, the block affected the field-position battle for the rest of the half.

Kentucky, which leads the Southeastern Conference in punting (42.1 net average), doesn’t want to let the same thing happen this week against a Florida team that has already blocked two punts this season. The first came in the season opener against Florida Atlantic courtesy of Solomon Patton, and the other by Chris Rainey early in the second quarter against Tennessee.

The former resulted in Rainey scooping the ball and sprinting into the end zone. The latter gave Florida prime field position at Tennessee’s 13-yard line, setting up an eventual field goal by Caleb Sturgis. Ultimately, they both ended in Florida wins, too.

“The percentages of winning the game go through the roof,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s such a deflating thing for a punt team and I don’t know … that we’ve won many games when we’ve had a punt blocked. It’s hard to do because the change in momentum and it’s obviously easy to score off of. The momentum of the game certainly can flip pretty quickly.”

Phillips described Florida’s maneuver on block attempts as a “mug and trail,” where a defender occupies a lineman with his hands and pulls him to open up a hole for a speedier defensive player to gun through and get to the punter.

“Everybody does it,” Phillips said. “We try to do it also. [There’s] nothing illegal about it ... they do a great job of it.”

To counteract UF’s tendency to block punts, Phillips said Kentucky needs to focus on sticking to assignments and executing to perfection.

Florida’s first block, Phillips said, appeared to be caused by poor execution by Florida Atlantic, while the one against Tennessee looked like a missed assignment.

“You can’t have missed assignments and you can’t have botched operation either,” Phillips said. “Either one of those two things and those things will cause blocks. We have to get a hat on a hat and get the operation off.”

Contact Tom Green at tgreen@alligator.org.

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