The Florida Gators look to extend their dominance against the Kentucky Wildcats, but will they get caught looking ahead at their next matchup with LSU?
Every week your Florida Gators Insider will be previewing the team’s Saturday matchup. The column format may not be the same next week, as we’re still working out the kinks. Expect the release of Swampland Things, a quick-thoughts recap of Saturday’s game to post on Monday.
On to more pressing matters in The Swamp…
Kentucky Wildcats (1-2, 0-0) at No. 14 Florida Gators (3-0, 2-0 SEC)
Saturday September 21st 12:21 PM EST
Series History: Florida 44-17
News and numbers to know for this weekend’s rivalry game
-The Gators have been champions of the second half. They’ve outscored opponents 50-13 after half and 27-0 in fourth quarter scoring.
-If this weekend against Kentucky is similar to the teams’ recent meetings, Florida won’t have to worry about points in the second half. They’ve outscored the Wildcats 94-3 in their last four meetings (via The Associated Press )
-They have been road warriors the past two weeks, but the Gators haven’t had an impressive win at home since beating UAB 39-0 on September 9th 2011. Kentucky rolling into town may be the perfect solution.
-Despite playing out of conference games up to this point, Kentucky’s passing attack under Joker Phillips is no joke. All attempts at comedy aside, the Wildcats lead the SEC in passing and rank 13th in the country.
-Special teams usually play a part in this game. The Gators have blocked six kicks against the Wildcats since 2006, including four blocked punts.
Moral of the story: don’t go to the bathroom when Florida forces a three-and-out, you might miss the turning point in the game. Nobody wants to be in a bathroom full of regret.
Will The Defense Get Caught Sleeping Early?
For all the talk about this team’s second-half surges, the Gators have yet to hold a lead through the entire first half. The Florida defense has been prone to lapses early, allowing long scoring drives against Texas A&M and Tennessee. As a result, they have allowed their opponent to gain some confidence early on.
In addition, there may be some growing pains adjusting to new personnel. With backups continuing to get major reps in starting roles (LB Antonio Morrison, DL Earl Okine), the Gators will be more prone to first-half miscues.
The Gators can’t afford that against Kentucky’s high-octane passing attack, led by SEC completion leader Maxwell Smith. They need to control the game from the onset so the offense can get comfortable in its first few drives. Allowing Bowling Green to take an early 7-0 lead or Texas A&M to take a 17-7 lead in the second quarter turned those matchups in tougher contests than they had to be.
The only second-half adjustments Coach Muschamp should be making Saturday are which third-stringers will start on the third quarter. That will be up to his unit to keep Smith and Co. in check early.
Matchup of the Week
Wide Receivers vs. Kentucky Secondary
The Florida receiving core has an opportunity to gain some confidence against one of the weaker secondaries in the SEC.
Frankie Hammond Jr. has been the most productive of the bunch, but he’s a home run threat who’s only caught six balls in three games. Tight end Jordan Reed and H-back Trey Burton have been able to give Jeff Driskel some open windows, but the Gators are still searching for another speed threat to emerge.
Auditions for receiver will be taking place on Florida Field this Saturday afternoon. The group is full of passable blockers, but these players came to Gainesville to catch passes.
It’s time to shine. I’m looking at you Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Solomon Patton.
Florida HB Trey Burton
The Gator’s do-it-all wildcat option displayed blazing speed in Knoxville with touchdowns of 14 and 80 yards on the ground. He outran the entire Tennessee defense on that long scamper, which I declared the turning point in the Gator’s rivalry win.
He looks comfortable at running back, but the junior can throw it downfield or catch an out route for a first down. He has been the sparkplug that given this offense a creative boost aside from “ground and pound” football.
There’s no doubt Burton will contribute in multiple ways against the Wildcats as well.
Gators’ OC Brent Pease may want to keep Burton’s role under wraps with LSU looming into two weeks, but the junior’s versatility may be too tasty to pass up.
Kentucky WR La’Rod King
The Wildcats’ leading receiver is a 6’4 behemoth and will be relied on to move the chains in the passing game.
King is not a deep threat, averaging only 9.3 yards per catch, but Joker Phillips will call his number early and often in Kentucky’s no-huddle offense. He’s one of the Wildcat’s few playmakers that can turn a potential blowout into a competitive bout.
Gators cornerback Marcus Roberson had some trouble with Tennessee’s Justin Harper’s big frame in Knoxville. He’ll have a chance to redeem himself against the SEC’s reception leader.
Totally Unbiased Reason the Gators Will Win
If you haven’t heard, the Gators come into this matchup with Kentucky winning the last 25 meetings. That’s good for the longest current winning streak in the FBS annual series.
For the Wildcats, there’s always basketball season.