By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
The offensive and defensive starters show what could be. But if one becomes injured ...
LEXINGTON, Ky. - By halftime, Florida linebacker Brandon Siler was already envisioning the celebration.
The Gators had scored 49 unanswered points against Kentucky and seemed well on their way to one of those old-fashioned routs from back in the day.
By the time Siler and the Gators came out of the locker room after a 49-28 win at Commonwealth Stadium, the celebration talk had taken a back seat to talk about the backups.
After holding Kentucky to 16 yards in the first quarter and seven points and 69 yards in the first half, the Gators' second-team offense was held scoreless and second-team defense gave up four touchdowns and 226 yards. "It's real frustrating," Siler said. "You've worked that hard all season. You work that hard to get something. And then you do it and your second team that's supposed to be in there and be just as good as you - they're supposed to come in and play hard football - and they don't do it, It makes you mad.
"They'll get plenty of my mouth. They'll be hearing my mouth all (this) week."
Here's the gist of it:
If the No.5 Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) play as well as they did in the first half and nobody on the starting unit gets hurt, the sky's the limit. If the offense only looked so good because Kentucky is so bad and Florida must rely on its backups too much, look out for trouble.
Even coach Urban Meyer knows it. That's why he had the second teams in the game.
"Our (second teams) were innocuous offensively and defensively," Meyer said. "The fears were exposed. That means that this program has very little depth. Kentucky came out smoking (in the second half). I thought it was over. It's a hard decision. In the third quarter, do you leave the (first team) in there? And all of a sudden, (a starter) grabs a knee or an ankle."
After scoring just one touchdown against Tennessee last weekend, Florida cured its offensive ills against an overmatched Kentucky.
"Once we got in a rhythm, things were going smooth for us," quarterback Chris Leak said. "Guys were executing. Things started clicking." Leak was 6-of-6 for 83 yards on third downs in the first half and finished 25-of-32 for 319 yards and four touchdowns. Jemalle Cornelius and Chad Jackson had more than 100 receiving yards. Running back DeShawn Wynn scored four touchdowns in the first half, a 3-yard run, two 1-yard runs and a 16-yard pass from Leak.
"I thought Chris Leak played terrific," Meyer said. "That's the best he's thrown the ball in practice or in conditioning or a game. I thought he had that look in his eyes."
Florida got the balance Meyer wanted, gaining 187 yards rushing and 350 passing. After struggling with a new offensive scheme, Meyer said the Gators needed this type of game for peace of mind and confidence.
"You can take the second half and hopefully kick it off to the side of the stadium. But the first half I thought was really good," he said. "I saw the confidence." Meyer also credited the offensive line, saying it "blocked someone for the first time in '05."
"I think we got in a groove," senior center Mike Degory said. "The big thing for us is building on it. We showed what we can do, but we've got to build on it."
On a day when its offense put up big numbers, the defense was stellar for the fourth consecutive week. Linebacker Earl Everett had two interceptions that led to touchdowns, and Tony Joiner picked off a pass and returned it 27 yards. Cornerback Dee Webb caused a fumble that also led to a Gators score. With its starters on the bench, Kentucky rallied. After backup quarterback Curtis Pulley's 2-yard touchdown run with 8:34 left made it 49-21, the Wildcats recovered an onside kick and went 42 yards in four plays, capped by Pulley's 18-yard run. That prompted Meyer to bring his starters back in with five minutes left.
"I was disgusted," Meyer said. "Absolutely disgusted. You shouldn't have to do that."
But the Gators will prepare for Alabama next weekend with confidence after Saturday's first-half performance.
"There's not a doubt in my mind. Nobody can touch us if we keep playing like this," defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "Everybody is starting to get a confidence, swagger. Not a cocky swagger, but confident swagger. We're starting to believe in each other. It's time for the light to get turned on. This was a turning point."