Dan Mullen

Florida coach Dan Mullen said the winning streak had nothing to do with Saturday’s game against Kentucky. “I mean it ended,” he said. “It happens, it’s sports. It’s a tough loss for us.”

 

Terry Wilson had Florida defenders diving helplessly at his feet.

The Kentucky quarterback consistently found himself in open space with no one within reach of him until he had moved 10, 15, 20 yards up the field.

No one except running back Benny Snell, who ran just as easily over Florida’s defensive front.

The Gators never found a way to contain the duo as they fell to Kentucky 21-16 at home on Saturday night.

And Florida’s fate ultimately trended down to a lack of physicality. Neither side of the ball established the toughness needed to compete with the Wildcats.

The Gators’ offensive line was dominated by Kentucky’s defensive front in every way possible.

Left tackle Martez Ivey never seemed to settle into the game as Kentucky middle linebacker Kash Daniel and defensive end Josh Allen had their way all night.

It was a wakeup call for Ivey and the offensive line. And he knows they have to find a way to establish toughness as a unit.

“We’re gonna know what we gotta correct and get right and do what we gotta do and get better. Just practice harder and let this loss not sink in,” Ivey said. “It’s a light to show us we got to go much harder than what we think we’ve been giving.”

The story was much of the same on the other side. Cornerback Marco Wilson went down early in the first quarter of the game with a torn ACL, and Florida’s defense never established any sort of dominance.

There was a forced fumble by James Houston and an interception by defensive back C.J. Henderson at the end of the first half, but that faded into the background behind all of the missed tackles and inability to set the edge.

It’s not that the opportunities weren’t there.

There were several instances in which Wilson or Snell should have been tackled for a loss but instead ended up gaining huge chunks of yardage.

“They had good players, but when you miss tackles and allow them to continually move the chains, that’s hard,” Mullen said. “We had opportunities several times to get them behind the chains and get off the field, and we weren’t able to do that because of some missed tackles. I’m going to watch the film to really see the physicality of where we are making plays on the defensive front.”

Florida knew coming in that Snell would be a big factor in the outcome of the game. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham even said during the week that setting the edge and minimizing those big runs would be a primary focus.

But Snell and Wilson combined for 280 of the Wildcat’s 303 rushing yards thanks in large part to those same big runs that Florida needed to prevent.

So how do the Gators find that physicality that was missing in Saturday’s game? Mullen says it starts in the preparation.

“We’ve got to learn how to practice every single day. I think guys are kind of used to – like practices are a lot more like a walkthrough, and they’re not. That shows you,” he said. “You don’t end up being a really good physical team when you do that.”

But physicality isn’t so easy to teach, especially in those practice situations.

“They just have to learn how to practice the right way,” Mullen added. “I watched some of the stuff – when you’ve got scout periods, you’ve go to the other team’s looks, they kind of treated that as walkthroughs, and it’s not. You’ve got to thud. You’ve got to wrap up. You’ve got to drive back.”

Kentucky outplayed Florida in every facet of Saturday’s game. The Gators know it. And the Wildcats know it.

“We practiced. We prepared for this. We prepared for a situation like this,” Allen said after his team’s victory, “and the better team won.”

 

You can follow Alanis Thames on Twitter @alanisthames or contact her at [email protected].

Alanis is a third-year journalism major at the University of Florida. She covers men's and women's track and field for the Alligator's sports section.