Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Kentucky turns its focus to Florida

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Hal Mumme didn't have much time to savor his team's dramatic 41-34 come-from-behind victory over Indiana on Saturday.

        With the Wildcats' Southeastern Conference opener at No. 3 Florida looming, Mumme knows his players must be focused on the present and not the past if they hope to have any chance in the hostile confines of “The Swamp.”

        “I've wanted to get our team to focus on the conference play, and now it's here,” Mumme said during his weekly news conference Monday. “When we first came here in 1997, we wanted victories any way we could get them and we wanted to get to a bowl — any bowl.

        “This team's goal for the entire winter, spring and summer has been getting into the conference race. In that respect, this is the biggest game of the year. That's the way we're going to approach it all week, and hopefully that's the way we're going to play on Saturday.”

        It's been a long time since the Wildcats beat Florida (3-0, 1-0) in Gainesville or anywhere else.

        The Gators have beaten Kentucky (2-1, 0-0) 13 consecutive times and 19 times in the past 20 meetings. The last time the Wildcats topped Florida was a 10-3 victory in Lexington in 1986.

        Listening to Florida coach Steve Spurrier tell it, however, this may be the year that most of the SEC takes out their frustrations on the Gators. On several occasions this season, Spurrier has said his team isn't playing with the swagger and killer instinct of past squads.

        “If we play like this again, every team we play has a chance of beating us,” Spurrier said Sunday, a day after the Gators' last-second 27-23 victory over No. 13 Tennessee. “I know we're not a very good team right now.”

        Mumme, for one, isn't buying what Spurrier is trying to sell.

        “Oh, he's not watching the same film that I've been watching,” he said, rolling his eyes. “They're catching a lot of balls, running pretty good and tackling well enough to be the third-ranked team in the nation.

        “I think that a little of that is motivation on Steve's part, trying to get his guys ready to play. The only weakness I can find is that I think a few of their managers and trainers are slow getting water out on the field during timeouts.”

        Since his arrival prior to the 1997 season, Mumme often has talked about “closing the gap” with the SEC's elite teams — Florida, Tennessee and Georgia. Slowly but surely, he says, that seems to be happening.

        “We're faster than we were when we got here,” he said. “We've got some guys that can run on defense, and we've got some receivers that run pretty good. I think our offensive line is getting better with better people. It's a growth process.

        “I don't think we've closed the gap to the point where they're real threatened by us, but I think we have gotten a lot better than we were in 1997.”

        Now that they have played in consecutive bowl games, Mumme said his players are starting to believe they can have some sort of impact in the race for the conference title. To do that, however, the Wildcats must be able to compete with and eventually beat the Gators, Volunteers and Bulldogs.


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