Saturday, September 27, 2003

Gators hope freshman QB gets offense firing again

Leak to try to extend Florida's 16-game win streak vs. UK

The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Can a freshman quarterback - even one as heralded as Chris Leak - be the answer for a struggling college football power like Florida?

The No. 25 Gators (2-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) handed Leak the keys to their offense this week for their game today at Kentucky (2-2, 0-1). Leak will be the first Florida freshman to start a road game since Oct. 18, 1997, when Jesse Palmer did so at Auburn.

If recent history is any indication, the Wildcats could be the perfect opponent to break in a Gators freshman quarterback. Florida has won 16 straight games in the series, and UK has trouble against the run, allowing an average of 193.5 yards rushing per game.

Florida coach Ron Zook said Leak is ready.

"If you brought Chris in here and started calling off plays, you would sit in here and be amazed," Zook said. "From that standpoint, he has a great grasp. But what's going to happen in front of 90,000 people, when his motor is going 150 mph, is where he has really impressed me."

Zook said Leak would not continue to rotate with sophomore Ingle Martin, who started the Gators' first four games. The Florida offense sputtered last week in a 24-10 loss to Tennessee; it didn't score a touchdown in the first three quarters for the Gators' longest such drought since Nov. 18, 2000, against Florida State.

Kentucky enters the Florida game with the more proven quarterback. Senior Jared Lorenzen is just 234 yards shy of moving into sixth place on the SEC career passing yardage list.

The UK running game is a different story. Sophomore tailback Arliss Beach will make his first start after rushing for 46 yards - the most by a Kentucky running back this season - in a 34-17 win at Indiana last week.

"We'll adjust playing time based on performance, either to the positive side or to the negative side," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "In this case, Arliss had his best game of the year (against Indiana), and he will definitely be rewarded for that with more opportunities."

Kentucky came close to upsetting the Gators last year, rallying from a 19-0 halftime deficit to take a 28-25 lead. But two fourth-quarter returns by Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff - one an interception for a touchdown, the other a defensive PAT - helped spur the Gators to a 41-34 win.

UK vs. No. 25 Florida

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. today, Commonwealth Stadium (67,606), Lexington.

Records: UK 2-2 (0-1 SEC), UF 2-2 (0-1).

TV: Ch. 25.

Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).

Series: UF leads 36-17.

Line: UF by 10.

What to watch: UK has lost 16 in a row to the Gators, with its last victory coming in 1986, when QB Jared Lorenzen was 5. Each team could put an emphasis today on ball control. The Gators have five talented running backs, led by standout freshman DeShawn Wynn (Reading). UK will need its running game to provide balance for the passing attack and help control the clock; it has lost in time of possession by an average of five minutes per game.

UKTeam statsUF
300.2Offense avg.449.8
101.0Avg. by rush178.8
199.2Avg. by pass271.0
380.5Defense avg.320.2
193.5Avg. by rush128.8
187.0Avg. by pass191.5
28.0Avg. pts. for42.8
22.5Avg. pts. against17.0

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