Well, no Terry Wilson definitely changes my original outlook for Florida-Kentucky
I took a lot of heat this summer.
That’s not some stupid pun about living in Orlando and sweating within seconds of stepping outside. I promise.
I took a lot of heat this summer because in my SDS Crystal Ball series, I had Kentucky beating Florida. Gator fans, as you can imagine, did not approve. It didn’t matter to them when I said that Kentucky outplayed Florida each of the past 2 years and would be riding a 2-game winning streak in the matchup if not for forgetting to cover receivers twice in that 2017 game in Lexington.
Nope. Instead, it was seen as a major dig at the Gators.
I actually had real football reasons for the upset, too. Like, how I thought Florida’s defense was vulnerable on the back end and that Terry Wilson was going to attack downfield, much like he did in the Cats’ upset win in The Swamp last year. Wilson flashed that ability in the 2019 season-opener, which prompted me to double down in my pick that Kentucky would beat Florida again. I said the only thing that would change my mind would be a Wilson injury.
And well, look what happened. Wilson is out for the year after a season-ending patellar tendon tear and Kentucky fans are wondering what’s next.
First things first. I’ll stick with what I said. The second time, that is. I can’t pick Kentucky to beat Florida again without Wilson.
That’s not a slight to Sawyer Smith. Mark Stoops and Kentucky players said they have all the confidence in Smith. Obviously, they’ve seen more of Smith than I have. Besides what he did the other day in relief — he threw a couple of touchdown passes against Eastern Michigan — and the occasional Troy highlight last year, the sample size for my viewing of Smith is small.
These are some of the things I know about Smith:
- Committed to play baseball at Alabama
- Also committed to UCF to play QB, but flipped to Troy
- Started 7 games at Troy last year
- Went 5-2, 63% passer, 1,669 yards, 14 TDs, 6 INTs
- MVP of Dollar General Bowl
- Has the Johnny Depp-style facial hair
Smith transferred to Kentucky knowing he’d be at least the backup following the departures of Gunnar Hoak and Danny Clark, both of whom left Lexington because Wilson was entrenched as the starter.
The question now is can Smith do the things that Wilson was doing in Kentucky’s offense (stretch the field vertically, develop a rapport with Lynn Bowden, make plays with his legs, etc.). It helps ease the nerves when your first throw is a 54-yard touchdown pass to Ahmad Wagner:
Kentucky backup QB Sawyer Smith throws a 54 yard TD pass to Ahmad Wagner on his first throw at Kentucky 👀 pic.twitter.com/styXYGNnfQ
— Sports Related (@SportsRelated) September 8, 2019
My guess? We’ll see Kentucky try and attack Florida’s corners like that. That’s because arguably the top cornerback in college football, C.J. Henderson, is doubtful with an ankle injury. In his first game back from a torn ACL against Miami, Florida cornerback Marco Wilson struggled mightily. Odds are, he’ll be matched up against the aforementioned Bowden. If Smith can take advantage of that potential mismatch, obviously that bodes well for the upset bid.
Another guess? Kentucky isn’t going to stop throwing the ball. Even without Wilson, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran wants a different style than last year’s ball control offense led by Benny Snell.
It makes sense because if we’re being honest, this 2019 Kentucky defense simply isn’t as good as last year’s. There’s more pressure on this offense to score points. Plain and simple.
(As much as I’ve been saying “Kentucky won’t regress nearly as much as y’all think,” it still hurts not having a dude like Josh Allen who did everything in that Florida game last year. His performance was like the defensive equivalent of in “Friday Night Lights” when Boobie Miles’ uncle is talking to those reporters at practice. “… The boy will fill the Gatorade cooler, walk ya dog and paint ya back porch. I’m tellin’ ya, that boy can flat out play football. And he can pass!”)
Again, without knowing just how well Smith will fit with these Kentucky receivers — and against an actual Power 5 defense — it’s hard to know if the offense will be able to pick up the slack.
The thing that I’ve probably overlooked for too much of this is how someone in his first start against a Power 5 defense is going to fare against Todd Grantham’s relentless pressure. We saw what that did to Miami’s Jarren Williams in the opener. Williams was lucky he didn’t take 15 sacks. Granted, that was against a Miami offensive line that was extremely young. Kentucky is better up front than people probably realize.
The big question is if Kentucky is better overall than people realize.
As of Tuesday morning, Kentucky is a 7.5-point underdog. That line is down from where it opened at -9.5. Perhaps some of that is related to Henderson’s injury, along with the announcement that Florida speedster Kadarius Toney will be out.
Or maybe, just maybe, the public is starting to think that even without Wilson, Kentucky will be able to hang with Florida for 60 minutes. If I were a gambling man, that’s where my money would be. I do expect Kentucky to cover a 7.5-point spread. Stoops thrives in that spot.
But without Wilson? I’ll make a temporary pitstop and hop off the Kentucky bandwagon until I see what a post-Wilson world looks like.