Kentucky football: 5 reasons the Wildcats ruin Florida's Playoff hopes
For the Florida Gators, even with a loss to Alabama, the future is bright. Win out in the East, figure out some way to outflank Georgia and end up in the College Football Playoff. Or not. Kentucky is 4-0 and 2-0 in the SEC, neither of which is exactly a common occurrence. The Wildcats, having lost 33 of their last 34 games to Florida, will still be an underdog on Saturday night at Kroger Field. But Kentucky is also in excellent shape to pull off the upset. It’s just enough of an underdog that there shouldn’t be pressure to beat Florida, but its style of play is oddly similar to Florida’s, and Kentucky has taken the last 3 home games in this series down to the wire. Here’s why the Wildcats will rain on the Gator parade on Saturday night.
1. Kentucky’s big-play containment slows Florida’s big plays
Of the many interesting matchups Saturday, this might be the most interesting. With 28 plays of 20-plus yards this season, Florida leads the SEC (4 ahead of Arkansas and Auburn). But meanwhile, leading the SEC in fewest 20-plus-yard plays allowed with just 6 is … Kentucky. So Florida’s success has been predicated on the big play, and Kentucky’s has been predicated on stopping the big play. Kentucky figures to at least slow, if not stop, the Florida offense, which is particularly interesting because …
2. Florida is one of the few teams nearly as turnover-prone as Kentucky
Kentucky’s horrific turnover margin (dead last in FBS) has been the subject of much consternation in recent weeks. But here’s the thing — Florida has its own struggles. The Gators are 11th in the SEC in turnover margin at -3. Emory Jones’ 5 interceptions equal Will Levis’. And while UK’s defense has been solid, it has forced only 2 turnovers. Florida also has been solid but has forced only 3 turnovers. So the game matches offenses that are somewhat turnover-prone and defenses not brilliant at forcing turnovers. There’s a decent chance that either UF gifts UK a couple of turnovers or UK doesn’t cough up the ball as much.
3. The Gators have never seen C-Rod
Odd as it seems, Florida has never actually played against Chris Rodriguez Jr. Rodriguez missed last season’s game with UF due to COVID-19 protocols, and he didn’t see any carries in UK’s 29-21 loss to UF the last time the game was in Lexington. The last time Kentucky beat Florida, Benny Snell rushed for 175 yards and converted 3rd and short into 1st down all night, which matters because …
4. Kentucky is great on 3rd downs
Kentucky is 2nd in the SEC in 3rd-down conversions, with a 25-for-46 rate (54 percent). Florida is 11th in the SEC in stopping 3rd-down conversions. Meanwhile, in his UK career, Rodriguez has had 25 carries on 3rd down and 1 to 3 yards to go. He has moved the sticks 19 times. That kind of success will help Kentucky control the clock, slow the game and keep UF’s high-octane offense playing catchup.
5. Kroger Field and Big Blue Nation
Kroger Field is not one of the largest stadiums in the SEC and is not generally noted for its raucous atmosphere. But Kentucky’s fans are hungry for a big win, probably one that would launch the Wildcats into the top 20 of both national polls. Jones has never started a game on the road in his Florida career. Dan Mullen’s early success over UK has subsided in recent years, and frankly, the conditions are all right for Kentucky to spring a statement win for the Mark Stoops era. This game used to be a matchup of a have and a have not, an exciting team vs. a team crawling to hang on. Florida and Kentucky look a lot more alike than they used to, and Kentucky’s fan base will smell blood. Don’t be surprised if the Wildcats jump to 2nd in the East on Saturday night.