The last time we saw our Kentucky Wildcats they were taking on the seventh ranked Louisville Cardinals two weeks ago. Our boys in blue ultimately lost the game 27-13, but there were many positives on which to focus. The defense improved dramatically; the frontline on defense did a masterful job of pressuring Teddy Bridgewater; young players such as Jason Hatcher, Jojo Kemp, and Ryan Timmons continue to make big plays; and penalties were more under control.
But there were some negatives as well. The offense sputtered as the quarterbacks had sub-par performances; the wide receivers dropped pass after pass, killing drives; Kentucky went 0-fer on third downs; the defense showed how short-handed the unit is by getting worn down by Louisville's running game in the second half; and turnovers were a major momentum killer as the ‘Cats gave the ball back to the Cards twice in or near the red zone.
With a bye week to focus on fixing the negatives while maintaining the positives, Kentucky will open SEC play by welcoming the Florida Gators. The Gators are 2-1, 1-0 in the conference, and ranked #20 in the country. Florida has some adversity of their own to address as starting quarterback Jeff Driskel is out for the season with a broken leg and cornerback Brian Poole will miss the first half due to being dismissed from the Gators' last game because of an illegal blow to the head.
Can the Wildcats continue to get better and take advantage of the banged up Gators and break a 26 game long losing streak?
Saturday, September 28th: #20 Florida Gators (2-1, 1-0) at Kentucky Wildcats (1-2, 0-0): 7:00 PM on ESPNU
The Wildcats had two weeks to prepare for the Gators. In week one, they prepared for their opponent with Jeff Driskel as the starter; in week two, they have to prepare for them with Tyler Murphy as the starter (more on him in a bit). Does this change what Kentucky does defensively? I highly doubt it. Driskel, like Murphy, is a mobile quarterback, so the two are similar in that regard. And Driskel, although he's not Peyton Manning, looked as if he is a more effective passing threat. Florida has a rather pedestrian offense, ranking 47th in rushing and 87th in passing. Murphy may improve the rushing game and that's a spot where the Wildcats have been prone to give up big yardage on the ground.
The offense still has work to do. After looking great against Miami (OH), the Air Raid was again grounded a bit against Louisville. The quarterback question is still far from being answered as Maxwell Smith has an injured shoulder and has been limited at practice while Jalen Whitlow still has confidence issues and is prone to turning over the football. The good news is that electrifying freshmen could be the cure. Jo Jo Kemp has been moved into the #1 spot on the depth chart for running backs and the coaches insist that Ryan Timmons needs more touches. Their speed and elusiveness will be vital against a very stingy and athletic Gator defense. Mark Stoops knows a thing or two about defense and he has had nothing but praise for the Florida secondary. They intercepted Tennessee four times last Saturday and defense as a whole forced the Volunteers to turn the ball over a total of six times. That's not a good sign for Kentucky.
As for the Florida side of things, their offense, like I said, has been less than stellar. Driskel was a five star prospect coming out of high school but he hasn't lived up to his ranking. With his injury, junior Tyler Murphy stepped in to lead the offense. Murphy was rated as a two star player coming out of high school. He looked pretty good on Saturday passing the ball for 134 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 84 yards and another touchdown. The team as a whole rushed for 215 yards.
Kentucky has had trouble with mobile QB's in the past (nightmares of Cam Newton and Connor Shaw still haunt my dreams), but this is a new defensive scheme with new coaches. Murphy will present problems with his legs more than with his arm, so containment on the edges by the defensive ends and the linebackers will be absolutely crucial.
The Gator defense is allowing 16 points per game and they force turnovers with regularity. If Kentucky wants any chance at winning the game, they have to take care of the football. Whitlow and Smith are going to have to be accurate with the ball against that vaunted secondary and the backs and receivers must clutch the ball in order to keep the defenders from slapping it away in hopes of creating lost fumbles.
The ‘Cats cut down on the penalties and have shored up the defensive line. Progress has been made every single week. The latest ailment of turning the ball over could prove to be devastating if not addressed.
26 years is a long time to lose to any team. Kentucky broke the streak against Tennessee recently. They broke the streak against Steve Spurrier recently. Only one more to go. With two weeks to prepare and a young group of players growing more confident every day, it's time for an upset.
Magic always seems to happen in Commonwealth under the lights.
Kentucky Wildcats 23-Florida Gators 17
SEC Game of the Week: Saturday, September 28th: #21 Ole Miss Rebels (3-0, 1-0) at #1 Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0, 1-0)- 6:30 PM on ESPN
This might sound weird, but Alabama has been taking some criticism lately. The Tide defeated Johnny Football and his Aggies 49-42, but the defense blew a 42-21 lead and were outscored 21-7 in the fourth quarter. The Bama defense is shockingly 36th in points against. They also defeated Colorado State 31-6, but that score is extremely deceiving. The score was 17-6 heading into the fourth quarter and this time the Tide offense sputtered to perform. Alabama is still ranked number one, and they should be, but they are not looking like the powerhouse that destroyed Notre Dame in the BCS title game. They have numerous and exploitable flaws on both sides of the ball.
The Ole Miss rebuilding project is going on as scheduled as Hugh Freeze has his team rolling. The Rebels defeated their SEC foe Vanderbilt in week one and absolutely walloped Texas 44-23. Their key to success has been rushing the football with Jeff Scott and the rushing/passing efficiency of dual threat quarterback Bo Wallace. He has seven total touchdowns on the season thus far. Ole Miss also has a young and athletic defense highlighted by sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche.
But the game is in Tuscaloosa and the Rebels are still cutting their teeth. While I do think this program can pull some upsets and will be a factor in vying for the West crown in another season or two, I don't think they are yet on Alabama's level. But expect them to make it interesting for a while.
Alabama Crimson Tide 38-Ole Miss Rebels 24
Yes, I am previewing all SEC games in this edition, because honestly there aren't that many other games that pack as much punch as this one. Notre Dame and Oklahoma might be interesting, but the Sooners should win by double digits; and Wisconsin is visiting Ohio State, and while we would all love to see the Buckeyes take a beating for the needless 76-0 spectacle they put on last week, OSU shouldn't have much trouble at home.
So we are left with a very intriguing top ten matchup of two SEC teams. And to be fair, this is the marquis game of the weekend.
LSU is on the verge of proving itself as a national title contender. They are undefeated and Zach Mettenberger has already gone over 1,000 yards in passing and has thrown 10 touchdown passes. Add running back Jeremy Hill and wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, and what you have is one of the more balanced, potent offensive attacks in the country. Not to mention an LSU defense that never seems to diminish in talent no matter the year.
The Georgia Bulldogs are still searching for an identity. They are ninth in passing and 39th in rushing, but their offense looks stagnant at times. Their defense is allowing a boatload of points at 29.7 per game. Most of their topnotch defenders from last season are now playing on Sundays. The Dogs do have a win over an SEC East opponent in the Gamecocks. And the game is in Athens, which can be one helluva home field advantage. Aaron Murray is a great college quarterback, but games on the biggest of stages are not his specialty.
With the balance of LSU's offense and their ability to counter UGA's offensive attack with one of the SEC's better defenses, I expect the Tigers to continue rolling along.
LSU Tigers 40-Georgia Bulldogs 32
Last Week: I took the week off as the ‘Cats were on a bye week. But I went 3-0 in predicting the Wildcats losing to the Cards, the Tide beating the Aggies and the Ducks destroying the Vols. I am now 6-3 on the season and am looking to go 9-3. Don't let me down, Wildcats. And I'm open to giving betting advice. Not really. It's not legal and we wouldn't want to rouse the suspicion of the authorities around here.