Kentucky football: 5 reasons Wildcats will beat Florida
For 31 years, the question was whether Kentucky would ever beat Florida. A year after the Wildcat did so, the question is: Can they do it again? Despite the loss of starting QB Terry Wilson, there are plenty of reasons to think that yes, the ‘Cats can beat visiting Florida on Saturday night and make it 2 in a row. Here are 5 of the best:
1. They know it can be done
Yes, in the Steve Spurrier vs. Bill Curry days, Florida often played UK with a team that looked like an NFL team against a middle school JV team. The scores reflected as much: 73-7, 65-0, it all happened. But in recent years, the games hadn’t gone that way. Half a dozen times since 2000, Kentucky was 1 play from beating Florida … but was weighed down by the history of that losing streak.
Now that the losing streak is history and Kentucky psychologically isn’t rolling a stone up a hill only to be inevitably crushed by its fall, the Wildcats can just play the game, and let the chips fall where they may.
2. Xavier Peters is eligible
Kentucky got a big boost Tuesday with news that Florida State transfer Xavier Peters is immediately eligible. Peters, a 4-star linebacker, is the kind of athlete that Florida has had trouble blocking in recent years. Granted, he has spent much of fall camp practicing with the scout team. But he’ll be another weapon to dial up from the edge to make Feleipe Franks uncomfortable. Speaking of which …
3. Feleipe’s failures
The Gators’ QB, despite his huge arm and his world of potential, hasn’t exactly been Tom Brady against the Wildcats. In 2 games, Franks is a combined 24-for-50 for 317 yards. He’s also thrown an interception and fumbled twice. Granted, Josh Allen isn’t in Lexington anymore, but Allen wasn’t an all-world force in 2017 and Kentucky still made Franks uncomfortable in a 1-point Gators win that he finished on the bench. None of this means Franks couldn’t throw for 300 yards and blast UK into submission Saturday. It’s just to point out that history isn’t on his side.
4. Sawyer Smith means balance
The logic coming off the weekend was that the loss of Terry Wilson would doom Kentucky. And admittedly, the Florida game was one of those times last season when Wilson’s athleticism helped him make enough plays to offset weaknesses in the mid-range passing game.
But Kentucky will now run a more balanced offensive attack, trusting running backs A.J. Rose and Kavosiey Smoke (and perhaps Lynn Bowden) to take care of the ground game, while Smith, a more accurate traditional passer, will handle the air attack.
Meanwhile, Florida’s run game hasn’t been much to talk about. Yes, Franks and those receivers are talented. But on the ground … well, with the exception of a garbage time 41-yard run against UT-Martin, Florida has 1 play longer than 16 yards on the ground — and that was a 22-yard scramble from Franks. Balance matters, especially in the SEC.
5. Kentucky’s O-line has something to prove
Much of the talk this week concerns Florida’s front 7. And yes, anybody who saw them sack Miami QB Jarren Williams 11 times in the opener understands that the Gators are tough in the trenches.
So is UK’s offensive line.
Last year in Gainesville, UK outrushed Florida 303-128. For the season, the Wildcats rushed for 199 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. They return Drake Jackson and Logan Stenberg inside, and talented tackle Landon Young (who missed the 2018 season with a knee injury) on the edge.
Pro Football Focus tends to note those linemen among the best in the SEC. With the Gators in their first true road game of the season, Kentucky’s line will try to get Florida on its heels and trust the defense to play well enough to make it stand up.
If Kentucky wins, the skill players will get the headlines, but it’ll be the men in the trenches who make it happen. Considering that UK is 12-3 in its past 15 games, that won’t exactly be a new story.