WHO: #9 Florida (3-0) vs Kentucky (3-0)
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, a.k.a The Swamp
Where I can watch: ESPNU at 7pm
Kentucky has not beaten the Gators since 1986. Keep in mind they play every year, so that ought to give you an idea on how this game usually goes. Last year the Gators jumped out to a 31-0 lead in the first quarter alone, but the game will really be remembered for the hit that knocked out Superman. If I were a betting man, I would bet against Florida repeating last year’s 1st quarter dominance, but that’s a no brainer bet. The reason being quite simply, Florida has yet to score in the first quarter this season. So going for 31 in the opening quarter is simply not in the cards. Gator fans will be ecstatic if they get one score in the 1st quarter, any score, for that matter. There are more reasons to think this might be the year Kentucky shocks its SEC East Bête Noir. The Wildcats rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring offense, rushing offense, total offense, passing efficiency, pass defense and total defense. Not bad at all. Throw in the fact that their QB completes over 70% of his passes, RB Derrick Locke leads the SEC in rushing, WR Randall Cobb is probably one of the most dangerous receivers in the SEC and the fact that the team is yet to surrender a turnover and you have yourself a very competent football team. For these reasons Kentucky is in all likelihood the toughest opponent Florida has faced all year. With a trip to Tuscaloosa looming in the near future, the Gators better not overlook this dangerous opponent. Judging by the team talk this week, all focus is on the Wildcats though.
This is Florida’s last chance to gel before taking the trip to Alabama for what was once thought to be the marquee game of the regular season. If the Gators cannot finetune their act on offense, then the game against Alabama might get ugly. For this reason I expect Florida to have its best game of the year so far at home against Kentucky. Despite putting up over 30pts each game this season, the Gators continues to look out of sync and shaky at times on offense. The criticism ranges from poor execution to poor play calling and a lack of experience at QB, TE, and WR. It seems like for every step in the right direction, the offense makes a mistake and regresses. Despite not being anywhere near the level a “wanna be” championship team should be, the offense has improved in each game from “horrible” (vs Miami Ohio) to “half decent” (vs Tennessee) in my book. I expect that trend to continue and by the end of Saturday’s game some Gator fans will dare call their offense “decent”. The reason for this optimism is that the O-Line starters will be playing their second straight game together after battling early season injuries and QB John Brantley will slowly but surely be given more chances to open things up. The coaching staff has been rather conservative in the early going by trying to protect its 1st year starter and not expose him too much. I imagine this will subside as the season moves along and Brantley feels more comfortable. Aside from a couple of overthrows and miss handled snaps, Brantley has played well so far. His effectiveness on 3rd and long and the fact he has gone 140 pass attempts without an INT are encouraging.
Florida wins if
They do what they are supposed to do, namely; stop the run and execute on offense. The Gators held previous SEC rushing leader Taureen Poole to 23 yards rushing last week with a 5 man front. I expect some 5 man fronts but not all game as the Wildcat passing game won’t allow the Gators to simply play man coverage all game. The Gators will need to get a score or 2 in the opening quarter or at least score multiple touchdowns in the first half to win this one. Gator will need to score in the 30s to win this game.
Kentucky wins if
It avoids turnovers throughout the game and manages to produce a few big plays on offense. The Gator defense is vulnerable to periodic breakdowns and Kentucky must cash in when given the opportunity. If the Wildcat defense can hold the Gators early in the game it will set the team up for an upset as the pressure will continue to mount on the offense and the 90 000 fans’ silence and cries of desperation will begin to take its toll on the team’s psyche.
WR Randall Cobb vs CB Janoris Jenkins. Two of the SEC’s best at their position will be a featured matchup. Jenkins should get some safety help from time to time, but if he manages to shutdown the Wildcat WR in man to man situations, the Gators would be in position to hold this offense in check.
Prediction: I have to remain optimist here, Florida will finally find some early game momentum and win this one rather comfortably 34-20.
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Written by The Gator Great