Lexington, Ky.– After last weeks lackluster performance by the Gators, many pundits and analysts have circled this game as “the game Kentucky breaks the 28 year losing streak”. It would be hard for me to disagree after watching Florida’s offense struggle to get any rythm and the Gators’ defense struggle to stop a mediocre East Carolina offense, allowing 333 passing yards on UF’s secondary, even though the Gators were missing their best player and the best cornerback in the country, Vernon Hargreaves.
Well this week, the Gators get back Hargreaves and also get back starting safety Keanu Neal after missing the first 2 weeks due to a leg injury, which is great news.
Florida’s running game took a step back against East Carolina, when Florida gained just 168 yards on 38 carries. The Gators averaged fewer than 4.5 yards per attempt. Fortunately for Florida, Kentucky’s run defense is not very good. The Wildcats have allowed 442 yards on 81 carries this season, ranking 111th in the country in yards allowed per game and 114th in yards allowed per rush. Granted, those numbers came against a solid pair of running backs—Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire and South Carolina’s Brandon Wilds—they still point to a deficiency in the Wildcats’ front seven. This defense lost a lot from last year’s two-deep, and Florida would do well to exploit those losses, win the point of attack and establish Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite as early as possible. Doing so should open up the passing game for Will Grier to develop a rythm with his recievers.
For Kentucky, WR Garrett Johnson is an absolute stud and having Hargreaves back will be crucial in taking him out of the game. Quarterback Patrick Towles has been getting better every week and that should make Florida’s defense step up. Towles took care of the ball last season, throwing just nine interceptions on 393 attempts. But three of those interceptions came on 45 attempts against the Gators, and those costly mistakes, which all came in the second half of a game that ended up in triple overtime, were a big reason Kentucky fell short of the upset in 2014. Towles has been even more turnover-prone this season, throwing one interception against Louisiana-Lafayette and one against South Carolina. And with the Gators defense fully healthy, that should concern Kentucky fans.
The Gators need to keep a young but athletic Kentucky defense on their toes. Nussmeier and McElwain should have a good gameplan in place to exploit Kentucky’s youth and inexperience, especially in their secondary. Senior LB Josh Forrest is one of the best linebackers in the country and will be blitzing Grier all night. The Gators offensive line needs to be prepared for Stoops’ exotic looks on defense. Linebacker Khalid Henderson is also a senior and is a tackling machine (18 in the first 2 week).
Kentucky is going to give the Gators everything they got in Lexington on Saturday night. Florida still remains a 3-point favorite even though this could and should be a pick ’em game. I think Florida’s talent is better than Kentucky’s from top-to-bottom and that will be the edge. Gators make a few late plays on defense to seal the win.
Prediction: Gators 35 Kentucky 34