The Kentucky Wildcats have managed the early part of their schedule with great aplomb, much as you would expect from a team that has as many offensive weapons as UK has on its roster. The Florida Gators have also done fine early, albeit against significantly better competition.
What are these two teams doing well after three games? For me, the best place to find out such things is the awesome CFBStats.com, so we'll be depending on that site for the statistical part of the analysis in this article. For today, we will be taking a look at what both teams are doing well.
A word about strength of schedule
Before we go on, let's get one thing out of the way. Kentucky's strength of schedule so far is abysmal. None of Kentucky's opponents have so far won a single game against FBS competition, and the only reason that UK is not the outright weakest schedule in the SEC is because Mississippi State's opponents have barely played a game that counts in an SOS computation. Florida, on the other hand, is firmly at mid-pack in the SEC in schedule strength. None of this is unusual for this time of year, but it needs to be mentioned first, and kept in mind as we discuss general team strengths below.
At this point in the season, Kentucky is #11 nationally in scoring, and Florida is #32. Obviously, Florida has played better competition, and that is one reason. But we should not minimize what Kentucky has done. Plenty of schools currently ranked higher than Kentucky have been less impressive offensively against meager competition than UK. What UK has done is win impressively over the teams they were supposed to beat, with the notable exception of Louisville, who may have proven they are better than their record with a narrow loss on the road to AP #25 Oregon State. Of course, Louisville's 10-point margin over FCS foe Eastern arguably works to offset that.
Florida has been slightly less impressive in terms of scoring margin, but not by much. Kentucky is second to Alabama in margin of victory, but Florida is a close third. Both teams have been putting points on the board and holding opponents to relatively meager totals.
The difference, though, is how the scoring has come. Kentucky has mostly scored off their offense by driving down the field. Florida has used their defense and special teams to keep opponents pinned deep in their own territory or get big chunks off kickoff and punt returns. Jeff Demps is the #6 kick returner in America, averaging 37 yards/kickoff return. That has helped make Florida's offense look more anemic than it actually is.
At this point in the season, both Kentucky and Florida are highly placed nationally in scoring defense, the Gators at #16 and Kentucky at #34. They have accomplished these solid stats through different routes, though.
Florida has been doing it against the run. Florida is currently #24 in the nation against the run, holding teams to an average of 92.3 yards/game, and two of the teams that they have beaten have solid running attacks, the Tennessee Volunteers and South Florida Bulls.
Kentucky, conversely, has done much better against the pass. Kentucky is currently ranked 4th nationally in passing defense, although Louisville is the best ranked passing team they have played against at #66 nationally. Akron and Western are both ranked over 100 in the category. Given the four long passes that the Akron Zips had open but just missed last game, you could say that Kentucky's lofty rating is arguably as much about luck and inept opponent execution as skill.
Scoring in the red zone
Both teams have converted over 80% of their red zone opportunities, with Kentucky converting 87.5% (75% TD) and Florida 85% (77% TD).
Both teams have utilized a diverse attack to get the job done, and though most of the scoring for both teams has been done on the ground, a significant number of touchdowns for both Florida and Kentucky have been scored through the air.
Both Kentucky and Florida are in the top 20 nationally in turnover margin, Florida at #2 and Kentucky at #16. Kentucky has, significantly, not lost a single fumble or had a pass intercepted so far this year. Florida
has also not lost a fumble, but has had two passes picked off. has lost 5 fumbles, but has not thrown an interception.
But the Florida defense has forced
five 2 turnovers by fumble and 10 by INT, whereas Kentucky has managed 2 and 2 respectively.
So far, both teams have been strong offensively and defensively, with a bunch of caveats thrown in. Kentucky has inarguably been the better executing offensive team, with Florida having numerous mishandles on the center/quarterback exchange and general execution difficulties in their offense. Their defense has been much more impressive, forcing turnovers, creating havoc and generally stifling their opponents.
Kentucky has executed very well offensively in every game except arguably the first one, where their execution on offense was just okay. Defensively, Kentucky has kept its weaker opponents out of the end zone, but hasn't really distinguished itself in terms of getting off the field on third down, or locking up opposing receivers in the man-to-man.
Based on what these teams do well, it's easy to see a game scenario where Kentucky's defense has difficulty with Florida's greater speed and talent, and that is likely to be the case. UK has been ordinary in the pass rush, so John Brantley will not likely be harried on Saturday very much unless UK breaks form.
By the same token, Florida has yet to face an opponent with as diverse and powerful an offensive attack as Kentucky has. Even though USF has a strong running game, their passing game is not very good, so that enabled the Gators to key on the run. Do that against Kentucky, and Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews, among others, will burn them through the air. Kentucky's offense will force Florida to play honest defense, perhaps for the first time this year.
We'll have more on this game as the week goes on.