LEXINGTON, Ky. — It took one game for the Kentucky defense to turn Florida freshman Trey Burton into a budding superstar.
The Wildcats (3-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) are hoping to keep Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli from doing the same on Saturday when they travel to play the Rebels (2-2, 0-1).
Kentucky struggled to get a hand on Burton, allowing him to score a school-record six touchdowns that led to comparisons with former Florida star Tim Tebow.
Coach Joker Phillips blamed his team’s inability to slow Burton on poor tackling.
“You tackle with your face and your feet, You don’t tackle with your arms,” Phillips said. “That’s the thing that some of our guys are missing, just like catching. A lot of people think you catch it with your hands. You don’t. You catch with your feet and your eyes first, then your hands.”
Kentucky failed to catch Burton all too often during a disappointing 48-14 loss to the Gators. Burton simply did whatever he wanted, outrunning some defenders or easily bouncing off others on trip after trip to the end zone.
It’s a problem that needs to be corrected if the Wildcats want to finally break through into the upper half of the SEC. Phillips ordered the team to return to live tackling drills this week in hopes of providing a refresher course on how to get physical.
“You have to tackle through people,” Phillips said. “You can’t reach and grab.”
The challenge will only get tougher against Masoli, who has already run for over 210 yards and two touchdowns this season after transferring from Oregon.
Burton, for all his speed, is used primarily as a runner by the Gators. Masoli is just as talented with his arm.
“He’s a dangerous guy,” said Kentucky defensive coordinator Steve Brown, who likened Masoli to Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.
There is one major difference, however. Robinson is a speedster who can blow by defenders. Masoli is more of a grinder, meaning the Wildcats will get their shots to take him down. If they don’t, they’ll be in serious trouble.
“You have to be really disciplined and really focused on what you’re doing and do your best to shut him down,” Brown said.
Going against versatile wide receiver Randall Cobb and speedy running back Derrick Locke in practice every day has helped get the Kentucky defense ready, Brown said, so that they can see an elusive, unpredictable ball carrier up close.
Masoli remains wary despite Kentucky’s lethargic performance against the Gators.
“We watched the Florida game and Florida did a great job against them scheming up some things,” he said. “But they play hard, they’re a fast bunch and they’re going to bring it.”
Effort, however, wasn’t the issue against the Gators. Kentucky players have said repeatedly they’re pleased with how hard they played. They’re so hot on how effectively they played.
“We left it out there, but we know we let some opportunities get away from us,” said defensive tackle Luke McDermott. “We can’t have the same kind of mental breakdowns.”
Not if the Wildcats want to survive October. A week after playing the Rebels, Kentucky hosts No. 10 Auburn and bullish quarterback Cam Newton.
Yet as poorly as his team looked at times against the Gators, Phillips isn’t exactly panicking. Florida has a way of making a lot of teams look slow out and out step. Things can only go up from here.
“We won’t play a team faster than they are,” he said.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., contributed to this report
The Associated Press