Well, today we will receive the 24th answer to a question that has been dogging us for the last 23 years -- is it possible for UK to somehow beat the Florida Gators.
Let's face it, folks, Kentucky has a loathsome record against the Gators. Yeah, 23 losses in a row is bad, but an even worse statistic is that Kentucky has only defeated Florida once since 1980. Kentucky's record against Tennessee is actually better since 1980, where UK has won two games versus the Vols.
There have been a couple of close games in this streak of futility -- 2003 where UK lost at Florida 24-21, 1993 where UK lost 24-20, but let's face it -- most of these games have been obliterations, like 2008 (63-5), 1996 (65-0), 1995 (42-7), 1994 (73-7) and many other lesser uncompetitive games along the way. Overall, our series with the Gators since 1980 has been one long embarrassment.
The Gators, so far
So far this year, Florida has once again looked good, but not nearly as powerful offensively as they have looked the last four years, three of them under Tim Tebow. Make no mistake, the Gators are a talented, powerful football team.
But the fact is, this Gator team is extremely young, particularly at skill positions. Jeff Demps is the greybeard of the bunch as a junior with two years in the Gator system. Wide receiver is particularly problematic, with Carl Moore, a JUCO transfer, and Chris Rainey, a sophomore, as the most experienced wideouts. Virtually all of the Gator depth at wide receiver are redshirt freshmen. The offensive line, though is talented and experienced with three seniors, a junior and a sophomore. Their depth is also full of experience on the line.
Defensively, the Gators are also young, particularly at linebacker, where several players with little game experience are starting or high on the depth chart. The secondary is more experienced, and the line is mostly seniors. So right from the get-go, we can see why the Gators have been so strong on defense. They have a really experienced and talented defensive line, and it is the Gator D-Line that will either win or lose the Kentucky game for Florida.
Florida has feasted defensively on weaker teams, and even though they rank 24th in run defense, they have arguably underachieved a bit considering the strength of their line. That's most likely due to their young linebacking corps. Florida is only allowing opponents to convert 27% of third downs, a very good number.
Florida has executed poorly on offense, turning the ball over five times, more than once due to a faulty snap from new center Mike Pouncey, who played guard last year. Demps has done damage, but the Gator passing game has been anything but impressive at 150 yards/game.
Overall, this Florida team is young, has trouble handling and throwing the football, and has executed poorly on offense compared to the Florida teams of the last four years. In addition, John Brantley is not the kind of runner Tebow was, and that has removed a dimension from the Gator offense that everyone had been used to seeing.
Kentucky so far
Kentucky has experience all over the offense. Hartline, Cobb, Locke, all the wide receivers and many of the backups have experience in the Kentucky system. The offensive line is somewhat younger but talented.
It is defensively, however, where the Wildcats have the most problems, particularly on the defensive line. The Wildcat D-line is young, light, and completely untested against an SEC quality, experienced offensive line. Kentucky has experience in the linebacking corps and in the secondary.
Kentucky has played the weakest foes in the SEC so far, the strongest being Louisville, who Kentucky only beat by a touchdown. Kentucky has struggled a bit on run defense, giving up several big plays to notably inferior teams. UK has also played poorly on special teams at times, giving up a big kickoff return to Western and one to Louisville.
Kentucky's defensive secondary has arguably been more lucky than good. Akron's quarterback missed wide open receivers on no less than four post routes in the last game, any or all of which would have been for big gains, and even touchdowns. UK has done a good job getting off the field on third down, holding opponents to only 27% conversions. Florida has allowed the same conversion rate, but against much stronger competition.
Ten things to watch for tonight
- Who gets pressure on the quarterback? Florida will come out very aggressive on defense. Can Mike Hartline handle it?
- The Florida receivers one-on-one. If they get the better of that, it will be a long night for the 'Cats.
Randall Cobb unleashed. Expect quite a bit of the Wild Cobb formation. If the Gators are not well prepared for it, they could get burned.
- Tight ends for Kentucky. Florida has young but talented linebackers, UK has young but talented tight ends. Who wins that?
- Big plays. Both these teams have big play ability. Who gets the most?
- Turnovers. Florida is fumblicious but takes the ball away from teams, Kentucky hasn't turned the ball over yet.
- Between the tackles. If Florida stifles UK's running game, it will be a tough spot for the 'Cats.
- Kentucky's defensive line. If they get pushed around by Florida's bigger, more experienced O-line, the Flordia WR's are going to be one on one all night.
- An early collapse. Florida has crushed UK early every year of the Urban Meyer era. Will that change tonight?
- Derrick Locke. Locke is fast, but the Gator defense is by far the fastest UK has faced, and probably the fastest it will face all year. Can Locke still be productive?
Stay tuned, it's going to be a good game.