(20) Florida (2-1) at Kentucky (1-2)|
Saturday, September 28, 7 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 20th-ranked Florida Gators will try to defeat the Kentucky
Wildcats for the 27th consecutive time on Saturday night when the SEC East
Division foes square off at Commonwealth Stadium.
After a 21-16 loss at Miami-Florida on Sept. 7 caused a dip in the rankings,
Florida bounced back with a 31-17 triumph over league rival Tennessee in a
game in which its defense forced six turnovers. It wasn't all good news for
the Gators, however, as they lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel for the
season with a broken tibia.
"Very disappointed for Jeff," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. "That's
part of the game, but it's very difficult to deal with. I'm really hurt for
him and his family, and for us as a football team."
"That's part of the deal -- man down, man up -- and our guys understand that,"
he continued. "They understand that when their number is called they have to
prepare themselves the right way and I think we've done that for the most
Kentucky lost its opener on the road against Western Kentucky, 35-26, before
earning head coach Mark Stoops his first win on Sept. 7 over Miami-Ohio
(41-7). The Wildcats fought hard against nationally-ranked Louisville at home
on Sept. 14, but fell in a 27-13 final, and they used their bye week to
prepare for Florida.
"(I'm) very familiar with Florida having played them the past three years and
knowing quite a few players on their team," said Stoops, who faced the Gators
as a defensive coach with Florida State from 2010-12. "Very good team, very
well coached in all phases of the game, very physical team. So we have a real
challenge ahead of us this week."
With regard to the all-time series, the Gators hold a convincing 46-17 edge
over the Wildcats. The incredible run for Florida against Kentucky, which
dates back to 1986, is the longest active winning streak over a major opponent
in an annual series.
Florida's offense has been the SEC's worst in terms of scoring this season
(23.7 ppg), and conventional wisdom says that it will suffer even more without
its starting quarterback, but backup QB Tyler Murphy has a similar skill set
as Driskel, so there shouldn't be much of a learning curve for the offense.
In relief duty against Tennessee, Murphy completed 8-of-14 passes for 134
yards and a touchdown, and he also dazzled with his legs (84 yards, TD).
Muschamp is eager to see what the junior can do now that he has the keys to
"(Murphy's) a very popular teammate," Muschamp said. "Tyler is extremely
intelligent. He did a fantastic job coming into these circumstances and
performing well. (He and Driskel) are very similar guys -- athletic, they can
move around and do some different things for us."
The Gators will likely lean more heavily on Mack Brown (227 rushing yards,
three TDs) in Driskel's absence, although he is averaging less than four yards
Soloman Patton (212 yards, two TDs), Trey Burton (160 yards) and Quinton
Dunbar (183 yards) gives Murphy three trusty receivers to rely on in the
While the offense remains a big question, Florida fortunately has one of the
nation's top defenses to lean on. The unit surrenders just 14.7 ppg and ranks
second in the FBS in total defense (212.3 ypg).
Of the team's six interceptions, Vernon Hargreaves has recorded two to go
along with three pass break-ups. Antonio Morrison leads the team in tackles
with 13 despite missing a game, while Dante Fowler, Jr. and D.L. Powell each
have 4.0 TFL.
The Kentucky offense has seen drastic improvement this year, ranking fifth in
the SEC in yardage (490.0 ypg), but moving the ball up and down the field has
not translated on to the scoreboard, as the team ranks 13th in the SEC with
Maxwell Smith has been the most effective quarterback for the Wildcats with
544 yards, four touchdown and zero interceptions, but he is listed as
questionable with a shoulder injury. Jalen Whitlow will likely see action
regardless of Smith's status. He is completing 63.6 percent of his passes for
286 yards with a touchdown and a pick, and he has some impressive rushing
stats as well (160 yards, two TDs).
Jojo Kemp has 167 rushing yards on greater than nine yards per carry. He and
Raymond Sanders (153 yards, TD) form a solid one-two punch in the backfield.
Although 14 different receivers have caught a pass for the 'Cats, only Javess
Blue (15 receptions, 197 yards, TD) has double-digit receptions.
Stoops has implemented a new defensive scheme in his first year at the helm
and the results so far have been outstanding, as the Wildcats are allowing
just 23.0 ppg while holding teams to a mere 23 percent success on third down.
Avery Williamson (35 tackles) is one of the conference's top linebackers and
he has racked up nearly twice as many stops as any of his teammates. Za'Darius
Smith, a junior college transfer, has made a name for himself in his first
season with 4.5 sacks.
This matchup already had plenty of intrigue with Kentucky looking much
improved under Stoops, but the upset alert is even higher now following the
injury to Driskel. The Wildcats proved against a high-powered Louisville squad
that they can play great defense, especially at home, but Muschamp and the
Gators still have the experience and veteran leadership to pull off this
tricky road contest.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida 20, Kentucky 17
09/25 10:34:34 ET