Few Kentucky losses in my lifetime have brought the type of sting that the Western loss inflicted, and there is now an unprecedented amount of turmoil swirling above the Kentucky program. The Wildcats were thwarted by turnovers, an ineffective defense, and facing a team that was obviously much hungrier than they were and it was a cocktail that brought doom onto what should have been an easy win. This week Kentucky will try to rebound and head down to the Swamp in Gainesville to take on the Gators. The task is MUCH taller this week as Kentucky is a major underdog.
What you really need to know about Florida:
The Gators are a hard team to figure out. They have as much natural talent on their roster as anyone in the country, but have not played to their potential yet this season. While they haven’t reached their full potential yet, they’re still very good. The Gators are a much better running team than passing and are currently averaging 227 yards per game on the ground. The defense is stifling, but is certainly more vulnerable through the air than on the ground. Put simply, Florida is a sleeping giant that has yet to awaken. If/when they do, they could be scary good. In the meantime, Florida is a very beatable team, but Kentucky will have to really ratchet their game up to be able to compete with the Gators.
The players you really need to know for Florida:
#23 – Mike Gillislee – RB
It seems like Florida just turns out one speed-demon back after another, and Gillislee is just the next in line down in Gainesville. He has the ability to break the game open on any given play and his athleticism will surely give Kentucky’s porous defense headaches all afternoon long. The Florida running game is probably overly dependant on Gillislee at this point though, so if the UK defense can find a way to shut him down, it could go a long way towards a win.
#85 – Frankie Hammond – WR
While he is only tied for third on the team in receptions with 6 catches through the first three games of the season, Hammond is a serious home-run threat that is averaging a ridiculous 27 yards per catch on those six grabs, with two of them going for scores. Kentucky’s young defensive backs will have their hands full with Hammond and keeping him from breaking loose behind the defense. He may not rack up 8 catches a game, but if he just gets one or two against Kentucky, he could really make the Cats pay.
#22 – Matt Elam – DB
When it comes to play-makers in the defensive backfield, Elam is one of the top in the conference. He has accumulated 16 total tackles this season, two of them for a loss, an interception and a sack through the first three games. He’s equally dangerous dropping into coverage, supporting the run defense, or blitzing and will be a headache for Kentucky’s offense to account for. If Maxwell Smith isn’t careful, Elam could have a big game against Kentucky’s pass-happy offense.
#73 – Sharrif Floyd – DL
Floyd is a big guy at 6’3 and 303 pounds, and his penchant for getting into offensive backfields makes him a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen. In reality, Floyd is big enough to be a traditional defensive tackle and athletic enough to play defensive end as well, which makes him a tough matchup for any offensive lineman. He has 3.5 tackles for loss this year, and is becoming a mainstay in opposing backfields. If Kentucky can keep him on his own side of the line of scrimmage, the offense will run much smoother.
Top Three matchups to watch:
UK’s Maxwell Smith vs. UF’s Jonathan Bostic
Florida’s defensive leader will be in a chess match with Kentucky’s offensive play-caller. The Florida defense can be confusing at times, but will always bank on its athleticism when push comes to shove. It will be important for Smith to find the right keys and pre-snap reads and Bostic will work equally hard to hide them. The Wildcats will have to use the pass to set up the run (after struggling to run the ball through three weeks) and Smith will have to back Bostic and the other Florida linebackers off the line of scrimmage to give his backs room to run.
UK’s Miles Simpson vs. UF’s Jordan Reed
There is probably no team in the country that is more reliant on its tight end than Florida, and Reed leads his team in receptions through the first quarter of the season. He is a tough matchup for any defense and his blend of size and athleticism is only outdone by his understanding of the offense as a former quarterback. Simpson is a more athletic linebacker than most teams have, and he will probably find himself matched up with Reed on more than one occasion. If Simpson can take away QB Jeff Driskel’s favorite receiver, the Florida offense could really struggle.
UK’s LaRod King vs. UF’s Marcus Roberson
King will have a four-inch eight advantage on Roberson, but will give up quite a bit athletically. With a strong pass rush, Florida will put the pressure on Maxwell Smith and King is likely the guy Smith will look for to bail him out when the pressure gets to intense. The most important thing for King, will be to make sure to get the ball as high as possible and keep it away from the shorter Roberson, and to keep him from coming up to support the run and short passes Kentucky attempts.
Potential breakout players
#11 – Maxwell Smith – QB
We all know Smith is good, but he could use this game to leap onto the scene nationally with a big outing in Gainesville. There is a low likelihood of Kentucky winning this game on the ground, so it will probably be up to Smith to outgun the Florida offense. If he can score enough, he could get Kentucky a win that it DESPERATELY needs and put himself on the national scene as one of the country’s top QBs.
#83 – Demarcus Sweat – WR
Kentucky hasn’t had a freshman as electrifying as Sweat since Randall Cobb was on campus and it sounds like the staff is coming to the realization that they need to get the ball in his hands more. Expect to see Sweat continue to line up on kickoff returns and the Wildcats will likely use him in more offensive sets as well.
#40 – Avery Williamson – LB
Williamson is at the heart of the Kentucky defense and has proven to be a tackling machine. Against Florida, he will have to take on a really good offensive line to get to the running backs and Driskel. Containing Gillislee being such a high priority, Williamson’s role becomes even more important, and his potential to have a huge game goes up.
Key for a Kentucky win:
Beating Florida in the swamp will be tough, but not impossible. This week, the game is likely to come down to Kentucky’s ability to stop the run, put up a lot of points on offense, and limit turnovers. It’s really that simple. If Kentucky can get into a shootout with Florida, the Wildcats will have a chance. If not, Florida could run away with the game and it could get very ugly for Joker and his team.
Kentucky’s defense has just been too bad for me to think that they have a chance to stop the Gators, and the offense has been too turnover prone. I want Kentucky to win and snap another streak, but the order is probably just too tall this year. Kentucky’s only prayer is outscoring Florida, and the Gator defense is just too good to let that happen. I don’t really think this one will be as close as the scoreboard will show in the end.
Kentucky 21 – Florida 38