The Florida Gators kick off their SEC schedule this Saturday under the bright lights of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kentucky — who’s on a 27-game losing streak to the Gators — comes into town, a head full of steam and behind confident words.
Running back JoJo Kemp fired shots this week, saying he couldn’t wait to walk off of Florida Field with a win and rub it in all of their faces. We hope JoJo isn’t a history major because the worst Florida team in 30 years beat Kentucky 24-7 last season and this version of the Florida Gators offense looks less feeble and more like the after pictures from a P90X infomercial.
Today we’ll debut a weekly feature that will carry on throughout SEC play and the rest of the season. We will break down who has the advantage on each side of the ball, and in all facets of the game as the Gators inch close towards kickoff.
When Kentucky runs the ball…
Kentucky has used a plethora of running backs but the person leading the team in carries is quarterback Patrick Towles. The 6-5, near 240-pound quarterback is tough to bring down in the open field and will challenge Florida with their first true test this week.
The aforementioned JoJo Kemp and freshman Mikel Horton both have 17 carries through the first two games for 72 and 90 yards respectively. The Wildcats are seventh in the SEC averaging 233 yards on the ground through their first two games.
Florida is coming off of a week where they allowed just 80 rushing yards to a bad Eastern Michigan team. However, the Eagles ran for 292 yards the week before they were shutout in The Swamp. The Gators have a healthy rotation of defensive linemen and linebackers that should be able to contain the Wildcat Rush.
When Florida runs the ball…
The Gators ran the ball for 259 yards last week and they did so by spreading the ball around. In total, six running backs had at least three carries and eight players put up positive rushing yards.
The trio of Matt Jones (who will also figure into the passing game more), Kelvin Taylor and Brandon Powell will give teams fits all year. Mack Brown is a nice change of pace and a hard, physical runner Florida can use late in games.
Kentucky comes into the game with the ninth-ranked rushing defense in the SEC but Florida’s stable of backs shouldn’t have a problem moving the ball at will on the ground.
When Kentucky passes…
Towles has thrown 60 passes through the first two games, completing 61% of his attempts. Kentucky returned an experience offensive line with 74 starts between them this season to protect Towles but have given up five sacks through the first two cupcake games they’ve played.
Florida lost freshman J.C. Jackson this week but the defensive secondary is still stout. Freshman Duke Dawson returned an interception back for a touchdown last week, Vernon Hargreaves is still an All-American talent and the young players that we questioned in the off season have a game under their belts and confidence to back their talent.
Dante Fowler got some help last week from Neiron Ball and Alex McCalister. If those two can continue to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, which they should be able to this week, that makes for favorable rushing situations for Fowler, who will be Towles worst nightmare this Saturday.
When Florida passes…
Jeff Driskel enjoyed a career day last week, completing 31-of-45 passing attempts. Driskel fits into this offense well and Kurt Roper didn’t even dial up many quarterback runs for Driskel, utilizing his dual threat abilities. Florida spread the ball around with 11 players catching a pass last week.
Demarcus Robinson showed that the potential we have all been talking about. The hype is real for the talented sophomore receiver and he’s a big play waiting to happen. Quinton Dunbar and Ahmad Fulwood are durable and reliable receiving options and even Clay Burton had a career day with seven receptions.
The hype about Kurt Roper’s offense is real and the Gators passing game should have an advantage of Kentucky’s fifth-rated SEC pass defense.
The Gators used one field goal kicker last week but, if what Will Muschamp says is true, fans could see more than one this week. Last week, Frankie Velez was 3-of-3 kicking field goals all from inside of 36 yards. Muschamp still maintains that the team will use Austin Hardin on longer field goals. Velez was also 8-for-8 on PAT’s on the day.
For Kentucky, freshman placekicker Austin MacGinnis is kicking 50% this season (3-of-6) — hardly confidence inspiring.
The Gators held Eastern Michigan scoreless so we only saw one kickoff return last week but with playmakers like Valdez Shower, Andre Debose, Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell and Vernon Hargreaves sharing return duties it’s hard to pick away from the orange and blue here.
The streak is alive and well — no player on either team (not even 15th year senior Andre Debose) was alive the last time Kentucky beat Florida. The Swamp has been rocking the past two weeks and with rumors of an “orange out” this Saturday fans are pumped for Gator football once again.
I mean, they chanted for 70 points last week and it was a real possibility! Are you kidding me?
The Gators are a perfect 7-0 against the spread when playing Kentucky the last seven years. The Gators are a double digit favorite this week and they will once again cover that spread and take a 2-0 record into Tuscaloosa next weekend.
Florida wins 47-10