Florida Gators 2014 Football Game Previews: Game Three, Kentucky Wildcats

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Florida’s off to a 2-0 start in my 2014 projections, having blown past non conference patsies Idaho and Eastern Michigan. The failures of 2013 will be a distant memory at this point of the season with the Gators developing some confidence in what essentially amounts to two preseason games. Kentucky figures to be no different, though they may put up a little bit more of a fight than Florida’s first two opponents.

Or they may not.

Previously previewing:

Game One: Florida 45, Idaho 3

Game Two: Florida 52, Eastern Michigan 7

Kentucky Wildcats

2013: 2-10 (0-8 SEC)

Last Meeting (2013): Florida 24, Kentucky 7

All Time Series: Florida 47, Kentucky 17

Coach: Mark Stoops, 2nd year (2-10)

Who Are You?

The Kentucky Wildcats have had nightmares about the Florida Gators for as long as the current players have been alive. Florida has won 27 in a row against UK, which happens to be the longest active winning streak any one team has over another team in college football. Most of the scores are ridiculous, too. Last year’s 24-7 win looked was, relatively speaking, a nail biter; Florida had won the previous five games against the Cats by a total of 202 points. So it’s no exaggeration to say that Florida has completely and utterly dominated Kentucky on the football field in recent years.

Enter former Arizona and Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. In his maiden voyage at Kentucky, the Wildcats’ results were very similar to what they had been before his arrival- bad. To Stoops’ credit, Kentucky was competitive in most early games, including against Louisville, Florida and South Carolina. As the losses piled up, despair set in and Kentucky began getting walloped weekly. But there was certainly some promise early in the season for the Cats.

Unfortunately for Kentucky, they have to start their SEC season in the Swamp, where they haven’t won since the infamous 0-10-1 debacle of 1979.

OFFENSIVE BREAKDOWN

Returning starters: 9

Part of Stoops’ plan to restore Kentucky to glory was to bring in Neal Brown from Texas Tech to install the “Air Raid” offense, a pass happy attack that features a lot of four receiver sets out of shotgun. In his three years at TTU, Brown directed a top 10 offense in each year. The problem with it in Kentucky’s case was that their offensive line was not only outnumbered, but was really bad to begin with. Against strong front sevens like Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Missouri, it showed.

So now Brown and co. are going to roll it out again for a second year, and this time he’ll have some experienced players to run it with. QB Patrick Towles looked very good in Kentucky’s spring game, and figures to head into summer practices with the lead in a very tight battle for that position. Whoever wins the QB job will benefit from a strong playmaking corps around him. Kentucky returns their top five receivers from a year ago, including Javess Blue (586 receiving yards), Ryan Timmons (338) and Jeff Badet (285). On the ground, Kentucky has a decent option to go to in Jojo Kemp, who did really well in the limited role that the Air Raid allows last year, falling just shy of 500 yards… on 100 carries. Rounding out the offense is what should be a somewhat stronger offensive line that returns four of five starters.

Remember, though, these guys all return from a team that finished 109th out of 128 FBS teams in offensive production. The Wildcats are no longer wide eyed greenhorns, but Florida will be their first test of the year after two patsies.

Offensive grade: C-

Brown had excellent success with this same offense at Texas Tech… but this is Kentucky, who hasn’t had a top 75 offense since Andre Woodson graduated in 2007. With almost all the starters returning, the offense may eventually find its rhythm and may even improve leaps and bounds after this game, but as of right now, I can’t believe the offense will give Florida too much trouble.

DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWN

Returning starters: 8

While there’s hope that the offense will improve, there is some definite proof that the defense should under coordinator DJ Elliot. Well, the closest thing to proof you can have in the offseason (and at Kentucky), anyway. Under Stoops’ leadership, the defenses at Arizona and Florida State improved noticeably in his second season at each school.

Let’s start up front, where the Wildcats ‘ entire season could hinge. Kentucky employs two highly underrated defensive ends in Bud Dupree and ZaDarious Smith. Last year, the pair combined for 13 sacks. They should lead what figures to be a much improved front seven. The only departing starter from that front seven is Avery Williamson at middle linebacker, and it will hurt. Converted defensive back Josh Forrest, who recorded Kentucky’s lone interception last year, figures to replace him, and he brings the type of athleticism that Stoops loves to have at all 11 positions.

The secondary could be what holds this defense back. As I mentioned, Kentucky picked off just one pass last year, a lazy screen pass by Tyler Murphy that Forrest undercut Matt Jones for and nearly scored on. They’re going to need a lot more production out of their backfield than that if they want to take the sort of giant step forward that Stoops’ teams at Arizona and FSU took. They will get JD Harmon back, who missed all of last year due to academic issues, and add JUCO safety AJ Stamps. But there are lots of other question marks back there heading into summer practices.

Defensive grade: C

Returning most of their starters will help in terms of experience, and Mark Stoops is as good a defensive coach as they come. But I’m not sure this defense is ready to win them some close games in the SEC just yet.

Florida Key: Offense

Kentucky’s weakness is in the secondary. Therefore, once Florida’s gotten into a rhythm on offense, the time will come to unleash Jeff Driskel in full throttle. Warm him up with some easy screen passes to give him some confidence, and then set him free. He’s going to need to make lots of plays against Alabama, so Kurt Roper needs to take off the training wheels and let Driskel play football. Of course Florida’s going to need to maintain some balance on offense, and get Kelvin Taylor his fair share of carries to keep Kentucky honest and Taylor from getting rusty. But this game is all about preparing for Alabama the following week.

Florida Key: Defense

I wouldn’t usually suggest this against a machine gun type offense like the Air Raid. But I’d like to see Florida body up on Kentucky’s receivers and play tight bump n run coverage. The reason behind this is simple: I don’t believe Kentucky’s receivers are athletic enough to get free from Florida’s cornerbacks. Vernon Hargreaves may be the best corner in the game, and Duke Dawson, Jalen Tabor and Brian Poole are young but very physically talented. Until Kentucky’s receivers prove to be able to create separation and get open, Florida should play tight and physical, give the QB tiny windows and then try to jump routes.

Key Matchup: Special Teams

Kentucky was able to stay in the game last year much longer than it should have because of a fake field goal that was taken in for a touchdown. That was a good play call for Kentucky and bad recognition by Florida. Without getting such help from the special teams, I’m not sure Kentucky has the talent to stay in this game for more than a drive or two into the second half.

What Does This Game Mean?

Florida’s gunning for its 28th consecutive win over Kentucky, and its 34th in the last 35 meetings with the Wildcats. More importantly, the Gators are looking for its tenth straight SEC season opening victory after running off nine in a row over Tennessee to start their last nine SEC seasons.

As I’ve said in the past two game previews, though, this game means nothing other than remaining unbeaten against the teams Florida should beat with its backups. It would be an SEC win, yes, but over a team that hasn’t won an SEC game since 2011 (for what it’s worth, that’s also the last time Kentucky has scored an offensive touchdown against Florida). This is a game that Florida SHOULD win, and very easily. Throwing a party, getting cocky and bragging after this win is strongly discouraged.

Overview

Here’s the biggest takeaway of Kentucky. They’re better than Florida’s first two opponents. Better offense, better defense, better coaching, and a better fan base. That said, they’re still nowhere near the caliber of team that’s required to walk into the Swamp and pull off a daring nighttime robbery over what figures to be a ranked Florida team, and make all the Georgia Southern jokes you want, but that was last year and this is this year. Translation: it’s not happening.

Driskel will look fantastic behind a great effort by the offensive line, Kelvin Taylor will get in the end zone twice, and Andre Debose will break through in the clutch for the touchdown catch that puts the Wildcats away. Defensively, Florida’s going to ground the Air Raid from the very beginning, and after Towles gets frustrated enough, he’ll make a bad decision and try to force one- right to Vernon Hargreaves, who will take it back for six to kick start the rout. Will Muschamp’s Gators go 3-0 to start the year, and walk into Tuscaloosa with confidence.

Projection: Florida 35, Kentucky 6

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    Creator and founder of IAKOW 2.0

28 thoughts on “Florida Gators 2014 Football Game Previews: Game Three, Kentucky Wildcats

  1. Why do you give Kentucky’s defense so much credit… for having done nothing at all to this point? Yes they have starters coming back, but that was from one of the worst defenses in the country. Stoops has worked wonders at Arizona and FSU, I agree, but this is Kentucky. Florida can win this game with athleticism alone, easily.

    I know you’re going to roll your eyes at this, but Kentucky is like a D2 school. Seriously. They haven’t beaten Florida in 28 years for a reason. No matter what you say about them, no matter who their coach is, no matter who’s coming back or transferring in, no matter what type of offense they install… THEY SUCK. They just do.

    I have more respect for directional Kentuckies than I do Kentucky. Western Kentucky beat them last year and I fear Eastern Kentucky this year more than them. Until they beat Florida, I cannot take them seriously.

    1. I wouldn’t roll my eyes at that. Kentucky’s 0 for two years in the SEC. I have no respect for the Wildpussies. I do think they’ll be better than they were last year, but not by enough to compete. I have no idea why Stoops even took this job. He’d have been better off waiting at FSU for another year to get a job like Louisville, Washington or Boise State.

      Oh, and by the way, Florida wins this game 49-0.

      1. He took this job, of course, because anybody who fixes the Wildcats program is hailed as a hero. Then once he turns them into a national title contender, he jumps straight into the top echelon once a Florida, Texas, Michigan, Alabama, Oregon etc. job opens up.

        Which is never gonna happen. But that’s how he thinks, anyway

        1. That’s a little dreamy, if unrealistic, but I suppose it’s possible. Every good young coach thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread, and thinks more of himself than he’s really worth. That’s probably why Muschamp took the Florida job.

          1. He’d never go to Oregon because he’s a defensive coach and they love their fast paced offense out in Eugene. Those two don’t match up.

            And I think Muschamp took the job because he was a Gator growing up and wanted to be a Gator again. That, and it’s got incredible facilities and recruiting is easy because of the name brand. I don’t think he took the Florida job because he was “cocky”.

            1. Fair point about Oregon, but I was just saying that’s about the level of prestige he’d be looking for in the next job he’d take should suddenly have wild success at Kentucky.

  2. Neil:

    I hope that you are correct. Though I think UK will be greatly improved, I feel Florida is going to shock a lot of people. Again, I hope we play a $#!% load of players.

    Our D is very talented but back-ups are very young.

    Our O line looks better than it has in years but here too it’s not deep. We need to get 3s & 4s ready because some is going to go down. And when Bama gets hurt they just reload.

    Lord, this a going to be a long, long summer!

  3. Nice read. I’m not sure Florida should go bump n run, though. They might get beat, even though they have superior athletes on defense. It only takes three times on the roughly 75 plays that Kentucky will run to get 21 points, and if the offense struggles, it could be a 21-17 loss, or something like that. Play back, let Towles force a mistake and let the rest take care of itself from there. 49-0.

    1. Why should Florida not go bump n run on defense? You said it yourself, Florida’s got better athletes on defense than Kentucky’s got on offense. We have a lockdown corner in Hargreaves and a bunch of other good ones. Let’s make Towles life hell. Give him no space to fit his passes in.

      1. …or we could make Towles’ life hell by focusing on him and sending six or seven guys per play and letting our corners sit back and wait for him to do something stupid on his own. That has FAR less risk to it.

        1. I think you’re underestimating how good of a corner Vernon Hargreaves is. He’s not going to get beat too many times, and even when he does, that’s what safeties are for. And Florida’s got some damned good ones, too.

          Having said that, I do agree that blitzing Kentucky relentlessly isn’t a bad idea, but it shouldn’t be the key defensive tactic.

          1. I know VH3 is a damned good corner. But I’m afraid that he may get tired playing tight on every play. Even the best do.

  4. You give Kentucky’s defense a C? Lordy, lordy. They’re almost as bad as Idaho’s and Eastern Michigan. Don’t flip out, I said almost. But come on- they got shredded by Georgia, Alabama and Missouri for 48+. Yes, they do return a bunch of starters. But I’m not sure any of them were so fantastic to begin with.

    1. They are not almost as bad as Idaho and EMU. Those schools gave up point totals in the 50’s to bottom of the barrel FBS teams and a couple of D-1AA teams. Kentucky held all but one team to 48 or less. And that’s not something to be proud of, but let’s keep things in perspective here and not make ridiculous comparisons.

      1. Yeah, they are. At least in terms of how much success Florida’s going to have against them. You only need to be so bad defensively for a team like Florida to carve you up like a turkey. Once you hit that line, it’s irrelevant how far below it you are; you’re going to get torn up.

        1. I graded Kentucky based on how good their defense is in general. Not by how Florida would do against them. I made that prediction at the end of the article. As you said, I don’t expect Florida to have a whole lot of trouble with their defense.

          And if you want to talk about floors and ceilings required to give Florida trouble, write THAT.

  5. This game should be over by halftime. 48-7. Driskel may be a little more flustered than we think he would be, though. But still, Florida should have no problem here.

    1. “Driskel may be more flustered than we think he would be”

      What the fuck does that even mean? Kentucky’s defense is easily the worst he’s going to face in the SEC, and it’s barely any better than those of Idaho and Eastern Michigan. If he’s not flustered by those two defenses… why would he be by Kentucky? He didn’t look too flustered the last time he faced them, did he? Please get rid of that sentence.

        1. Driskel may throw a pick or two. No idea why, but Kentcky flustered him a bit last time he played them. He threw a careless interception against them in 2012. He may again. Note I said “may” get flustered. And note that I said Florida would win 48-7. Everybody just calm down. I said Florida would win by more than Neil did. It’s just a prediction. I coach football. The unexpected tends to happen when you least expect it.

          1. That’s fair. He may throw a pick. He’ll also tear the Cats’ defense to bits. And since that’s going to be more significant to the outcome of the game, I may have led my comment with that if I were you, since your 48-7 projection implies Driskel is going to have a field day. But I’m not. Carry on.

            1. I don’t know, man. Seems like a strange way to lead into your comment, like Neil said. Whatever. I wouldn’t complain about 48-7 as a final score, though.

  6. Good write-up, thanks. Seems about right to me, though I am not sure about super-tight man coverage on every play. Defensive variate is what frustrates offenses.

    1. I never said play bump and run on every play. Like I said earlier in the comments section, I realize that’s going to tire our corners out. On a lot of plays, though, especially the important plays, I’d like to see Florida play tight.

  7. Great read, Neil. So glad I found this site.

    Florida will crush Kentucky, but I can’t help but think that there are going to be a lot of problems that appear the week after this…

  8. Florida should outscore Kentucky for the entire game in the first quarter alone. Think, Kentucky hasn’t scored an offensive TD against us since 2011. I doubt they get more than a field goal. Florida 41, Kentucky 3.

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