Blocked punts by Florida have been a big issue for Kentucky in recent years, including two of them in the first quarter of the 2008 game in Gainesville. And eventhough the Gators have a new coach, Will Muschamp is just as commited to special teams success as Urban Meyer was.
Florida blocked a punt last week in its win over Tennessee, its second of the season, and since '08, UF has recorded 17 blocked kicks.
"We have some good players, that's the first thing," Muschamp said on the SEC coaches teleconference this week. "We've got some guys that have got special ability. There's been a huge emphasis on special teams from when Urban (Meyer) was here and I've carried that over. Special teams are very important to me."
Muschamp, a one-time Eastern Kentucky University assistant under Roy Kidd, says he subscribes to Bill Parcells' line of thinking when it comes to special teams.
"'If you're not a quarterback or an offensive lineman and you don't play special teams, you're a selfish football player' and I live by that. Our guys understand our best players will play on special teams," he said. "And we've got good speed. To create 'space' plays on special teams, you've got to have guys that can run. And our special teams coordinator does a great job. He does a great job of scheming to get guys free. You take a combination of all those things and that's why we are where we are."
Muschamp says blocking a punt is an almost certain ticket to victory.
"The percentages of winning the game go through the roof," he said. "I don't know that I've won many games where we've had a punt blocked. The momentum of the game can flip pretty quickly."
Newton's, UK's character to be tested
"Really this is the first season where he's been 'the man.' We've seen a lot of progress from week one to last week."
That's what grad assistant coach Andre Woodson had to say this week, when asked about the progress of his protege, junior signal-caller Morgan Newton.
Back in 2006, when the Cats were getting pounded in a loss to Louisville, then coach Rich Brooks later said he learned a lot about Woodson that night, to see how he kept battling back despite taking a beating.
Newton was sacked six times last Saturday and now faces an even better defensive front this week and Woodson says the current coaches can learn about Newton in how he responds to these challenges.
"Absolutely," Woodson said. "These next (few) games are going to judge his character, how he competes. (These) games are going to say a lot about the quarterback we have. He has a fire in him and that's what we need from the quarterback position and he delivers. We just we can continue to improve as an offense and see where we are from there."
He added that it's important for all of the players to rally around each other at a time like this, when many outside the program are jumping off the bandwagon.
"It's tough," Woodson noted. "But that goes to the character of the players. It has to be the players that build that bond, that family, that trust and it doesn't matter what anybody else says. They know they're playing for each other and they're going to stick through it."
Hall of Fame inductee Ransdell recalls win over Florida
It was 25 years ago this November that Kentucky last beat Florida, prevailing in a 10-3 slug-fest on a chilly, damp day at Commonwealth Stadium.
"We controlled the ball enough to try and keep it out of their guys' hands," recalled quarterback Bill Ransdell. "We had goal-line stands and the play that sticks out to me (involved speedster Ricky Nattiel). He does a square in (pattern) and Tony Mayes is covering him and Tony made up some ground and stripped the ball and I got to go out and drop to a knee and call it day,"
Ransdell actually set a school record for accuracy that day, hitting 20 of 23 passes in the less-than-ideal conditions. Of course, the Kentucky guys liked the turn for the worse in the weather.
"When it was good and cold, you'd see the Gators over there bundled up," Ransdell noted, adding he wishes the series would return to a November date.
Those kinds of memories will resurface this weekend when Ransdell is honored as part of the latest class of inductees into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. For his introduction at tonight's dinner, Ransdell has asked head coach Joker Phillips to do the honors.
"He and I were roommates during the season, off season. I've stayed in touch with him through the years," said Ransdell, "and there's not too many people who know more about me."