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September 25, 2011

Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down: Blowout Victory

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MORE FLORIDA FOOTBALL: Gators play take away | Sluggish start turns into a furious finish | UF-UK Video Highlights | Post game player comments | Muschamp post game comments | Vote: Alley Gator of the Game | UF-UK Game thread | Game Ticker | box score

After the game each week Inside the Gators will take a closer look at the football team by awarding them either a thumbs up or a thumbs down to either specific players, coaches, positions or areas of the team.

DYNAMIC DUO SPARKS GATORS WIN

It is quite obvious that redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey is in line for his fourth "thumbs up" of the season, but the truth is that Saturday's offensive explosion on the ground was a two-man show with senior Jeff Demps eventually stealing it from his teammate.

Demps's 20-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter set the tone for the evening, but Rainey's reverse-field 27-yard run caused viewers' mouths to drop. Then Demps wrestled the limelight away from Rainey, breaking out of a big hole and forcing two would-be tacklers to collide while taking off on an 84-yard score - the sixth-longest in school history.

Not only did Demps and Rainey each run for 100 yards for the first time since Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin did so in the 2009 BCS Championship, Demps set a career-high with 157 yards in the game. Following a two-week cooling off period (the first due to injury, the second a simple production issue), Demps now has 320 yards on the ground in 2011 and is on pace to break his single-season mark by over 200 yards.

Rainey's breakout season continues. His 411 rushing yards on the ground and 214 through the air already eclipses his combined effort from 2010 and puts him well on pace to top his 2009 total of 736 total yards.


GATORS GET 'EXPLOSIVE'

Not only did Florida run all over Kentucky, they did so in a fashion (as referenced earlier) that was both dynamic and exhilarating.

The Gators had four major breakaway runs on the evening (two from Demps, one from Rainey and a 60-yard reverse-field score by junior Mike Gillislee) as well as a perfectly-placed 45-yard toss from redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley to redshirt freshman tight end Gerald Christian for the first score of the game.

Florida's offense has now had plays of 80+ yards in consecutive games and many need to continue that trend (especially on the ground) seeing as other areas of the offense are not as fluid at this point in the season.


ANYTHING BUT A VERTICAL THREAT

Aside from Brantley's pass to Christian, the Gators had little luck throwing the ball on Saturday - not that they were being forced in that direction. Brantley only completed eight passes on the evening and just four of them were to wide receivers (three to Frankie Hammond Jr. and one to Omarius Hines).

Though Florida had plenty of success with the running game - and Brantley got injured at the tail end of the first half - Saturday was a unique opportunity for UF to stretch the field after playing so much horizontal ball over the first three weeks of the season, one which they failed to capitalize on.

With the relatively "easy" month of September now over and one of the most difficult months in Gators history about to begin, the vertical pass going to become more and more necessary - especially if Florida hopes to come-from-behind in a ballgame, something they have not had to do so far this season.


RESERVES PLAYING LIKE...RESERVES

Brantley and Rainey both avoided injury on Saturday, the former going down after a shot to the ribs and the latter pulling up lame after getting his right leg twisted while being tackled.

If the play of some of the back-ups is any indication of what they would do as replacements, the Gator Nation needs to pray that both players stay healthy for the duration of the season.

In limited action, freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel went 0-3, fumbled the ball while being sacked and threw an interception on a ball that popped out of Hammond's hands on the goal line with time running out in the first half.

Gillislee, running up the middle of the field in the second half, bumped into a referee and dropped the ball for a fumble of his own, a miscue that drew the ire of head coach Will Muschamp, who motioned to the player that he must carry the ball high and tight.

The duo was responsible for all three of Florida's turnovers, nearly negating the defense's accomplishments to that end over the course of the evening. What should have been a +4 game for UF turned into a +1 turnover advantage, something Muschamp will undoubtedly find simply unacceptable.

Interestingly enough, Driskel and Gillislee came together to redeem their miscues. On Gillislee's 60-yard rushing touchdown, Driskel laid out a great block that freed his teammate and allowed him to take it to the house.


DEFENSE CREATING PLUS PLAYS

After not grabbing a turnover for the first seven quarters of the season, the Gators finally got one when sophomore safety Matt Elam stripped a UAB player to force a fumble two weeks ago.

Muschamp told the team in the offseason that its chances of winning greatly increase if the defense can create three or more turnovers in a single game. Florida took a step toward that goal against Tennessee, coming down with a pair of interceptions last week in a 10-point victory.

The Gators really stepped their game up in this regard Saturday, recovering two fumbles (redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard caught one and returned it two yards for a touchdown) and nabbing a pair of interceptions in the contest.

Elam - with his second pick of the season - has now forced turnovers in three-straight games.


BOSTIC's BIG BREAK(OUT)

Junior linebacker Jon Bostic has had a nice 2011 campaign so far, but his performance on Saturday was easily his best of the young season.

Bostic's eight solo and 10 total tackles were both impressive, but his powerful sack of Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton forced the fumble that Howard caught and returned for a score. He constantly got pressure on the quarterback and swarmed the rushers coming out of the back field.

His tackle totals were each a career-high and Bostic now has sacks in consecutive games for the first time while wearing the orange and blue.

With redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins relatively silent on Saturday but quite effective in the team's other three games this year, Florida's linebacking corps may be able to challenge the line as the defense's best unit before the year is out.


PEANLTY PROBLEMS A THING OF THE PAST?

Following penalty totals of nine, nine and 16 in their first three games of the season, the Gators got things under control on Saturday, only committing five for 45 yards in the contest.

Perhaps most importantly, only one penalty resulted in a continued drive for Kentucky (pass interference) and none of the other four negated a big play that Florida achieved (unlike one week ago).

Considering next week's opponent, Alabama, has committed no more than five penalties in a single game this year, UF will need to be on its best behavior next weekend when head coach Nick Saban brings one of the best teams in the country to Gainesville, FL.






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