Kentucky Football: Three things Wildcats must do to beat Florida

Kentucky and Florida. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Kentucky and Florida. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /
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Kentucky football
J.J. Weaver of the Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The Kentucky defense has been the glue that has held things together all year and played its best game of the young season last week when they thoroughly shut down South Carolina.

Now they are tasked with their biggest challenge in stopping the Florida run game that is running over and through defenses this year. A polar opposite of the throwing team they were in 2020.

Kentucky or any team can’t shut down the potent running game Florida trots onto the field each Saturday but they simply must manage and contain it. If they get past the Big Blue boys up front it could be a long day for the UK secondary chasing Gators.

The simple fact is No. 10 Florida averages 322.5 rushing yards per game, an average of 7.46 yards per rushing attempt.

Kentucky is allowing just 87.5 yards of rushing in wins over Louisanna-Monroe, Missouri, Chattanooga, and South Carolina. The stellar defense is ranked third in the SEC and 21st nationally in run defense.

But a gassed defense can’t keep up so the UK offense must stay on the field and give the defense rest, unlike last week when fumbles and missed opportunities kept the D on the field way, way to much.

Kentucky has spread the defensive big plays, tackles for losses, and great tackles all across the field, but it starts right over the football with the big bad 6-foot-7, 350-pound Marquan McCall at the nose guard. Stoops made note of his play on Thursday.

"Yeah, we’ve gotta see that out of Marquan each and every week. He’s really worked hard this whole year. He did put together probably his best performance a week ago as far as being that consistent for a lot of plays. I’d love to see him continue it because we’re going to need him here this week.”"

Brad White’s defense has risen pretty much to the challenge all season and ranks in the top 10 in many categories, but the Gators provide an opportunity to see just how solid, stout, and cohesive this unit is.

Jacquez Jones and DeAndre Square lead the team with 24 tackles, followed by Yusuf Corker and Carrington Valentine with 21 apiece; Tyrell Aijian and Davonte Robinson have 18 each; Josh Paschal 15, Jordan Wright a dozen and probably the biggest story is the JJ Weaver with 11. The Moore High product suffered a season-ending knee injury last year and has made a tremendous recovery and contribution.

The Gators can go to the air as well averaging 218 yards passing a game and that has been without quarterback Anthony Richardson who is now 100 percent healthy and clear after missing two games with a hamstring injury. The dual-threat QB can provide nightmares both running and throwing. He averages 25 yards a carry running with it 11 times this season.

But he isn’t the only QB to worry about as Emory Jones has tossed for 668 yards and four touchdowns while also leading the team in rushing yards and attempts. Against the Vols last week he threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns while also gashing the Volunteers for 144 yards on the ground.

Kentucky’s “D” hasn’t allowed teams to find the endzone often this year allowing just 17.8 points a game. This is the game to keep that average intact.