As usual, we are going to take a look at the statistical comparison between Florida an Kentucky, hopefully to get some idea of what we can expect on Saturday.
Florida and Kentucky are interesting teams. Statistically, they are surprisingly close in most areas. Both teams are offensively dominant with average defenses, Florida mainly due to youth and Kentucky mainly due to an athletic talent and speed advantage most of the SEC has enjoyed over them for years.
Despite similar offensive statistics, the two teams couldn't be any more different in the way they approach the game. Overall, Florida is a speed team but their offense is less about speed than raw power, where Kentucky has a number of dynamic athletes at all skill positions, which gives them a nice balance of speed and power both inside and outside. Because of the unusual talents of Tim Tebow, Florida essentially runs a variant of the single-wing offense popular in back in the 40's and 50's, with Tebow playing the tailback. Kentucky, on the other hand, runs a multiple pro-set offense surprisingly similar to Spurrier's "fun 'n gun" run at Florida during his tenure with its multiple quarterback reads and audibles, the biggest difference being that the offense at Kentucky is less pass-focused than Spurrier's was.
So let's have a look at these two teams statistically:
|Points / Game||42.70||26.40||16.30||39.70||21.00||18.70|
|Yards / Game||460.00||381.30||78.70||449.50||324.20||125.30|
|Rushing Yards / Game||200.00||194.70||5.30||202.80||94.00||108.80|
|Passing Yards / Game||260.00||186.60||73.40||246.70||230.20||16.50|
|Yards / Play||6.10||5.20||0.90||7.10||4.90||2.20|
|Rushing Yards / Carry||5.10||4.70||0.40||5.30||2.90||2.40|
|Passing Yards / Attempt||7.20||5.80||1.40||9.70||6.70||3.00|
|Passing Yards / Completion||11.40||11.00||0.40||14.80||11.30||3.50|
|Passing Completion %||63.20||52.70||10.60||65.80||59.50||6.30|
|Punt Return Average||7.60||3.80||3.80||15.60||0.00||15.60|
|Yards / 7 Points||75.40||101.00||25.60||79.30||108.10||28.70|
|Plays / 7 Points||12.30||19.40||7.10||11.20||22.30||11.00|
|Rushing Play %||51.90||56.00||-4.10||60.20||48.90||11.30|
|Passing Play %||48.10||44.00||4.10||39.80||51.10||-11.30|
|Turnovers / Game||1.90||2.30||0.40||1.20||1.30||0.20|
|Fumbles / Game||1.10||0.90||-0.30||0.70||0.50||-0.20|
|Intercept / Game||0.70||1.40||0.70||0.50||0.80||0.30|
The first thing you notice is that the offenses of Florida and Kentucky have enjoyed very similar production. There is almost no difference in any of the major offensive statistics production-wise. Florida throws the ball considerably less than Kentucky, nearly 10% less on average, which you would expect from a power team. However, Florida is very adept at throwing the ball, as their 14.8 yards/completion and 9.7 yards/attempt indicate. In addition, Florida is a very accurate passing team, completing nearly 66% of the passes they attempt. Florida ranks 20th in rushing and 43rd in passing, compared to Kentucky's 23rd and 39th respectively.
Florida and Kentucky each dominate one offensive statistical category -- Kentucky the pass, and Florida in yards/play. As you can see, otherwise these teams are as closely matched as possible in offensive statistics. The one significant variant is that Florida has not played a high-powered offense similar to Kentucky all year, whereas Kentucky has done so (Louisville). No matter what you say about Louisville's defense, they are 3rd in the nation in total offense.
As you can see from the "opponent" statistics above, Florida is a significantly better defensive team against the run. Kentucky is currently ranked 99th against the run, allowing over 197 yards/game on the ground. Florida is 15th, allowing a mere 94 yards/game. Both offenses will sorely test the defenses, as Kentucky managed to run successfully against LSU despite their top five ranking against both the run and the pass.
The passing game, however, is another matter. Florida is ranked only 52nd in pass efficiency defense, and the Wildcats have taken advantage of weak secondaries all year. Conversely, Kentucky has the best pass defense that Florida has faced other than LSU, ranked #17 overall. Florida doesn't really need the passing game to beat you, though. Their ground game has been almost unstoppable. But lack of offensive diversity is something that worked against the Gators when Auburn came to the Swamp, and they need to get the ball to other players in order to be effective.
For Kentucky, the key to getting good ball movement down the field will be the running game. LSU's much-vaunted defense could not stop the Cats from moving the ball on the ground, and Florida will not be likely to do so, either. If Kentucky is looking at a lot of five yards and shorter situations on 3rd down, the Gators are in big trouble. Conversely, the Gators don't want to be throwing the football a lot on third down. Tebow is a good passer, but he is young and Kentucky's secondary is very capable and experienced.
Kentucky cannot afford to let Florida's excellent pass rush get to Woodson. Woodson is not nearly as sturdy as Tebow, and has a tendency to turn the ball over when he gets hit with it. Florida's defense is best when forcing quick throws, but the young linebackers and secondary struggles when quarterbacks have time. The linebackers and secondary are also very poor at defending slant routes, and Kentucky will throw those if they watch any Auburn at Florida game film.
Unlike LSU, Florida's special teams are good. Their punt coverage is outstanding, and kickoff coverage is fair. Florida is excellent at returning punts and kickoffs, and their speed is terrifying. Kentucky must cover returns especially closely, but Kentucky leads the SEC in kickoff coverage because Mastay kicks so many touchbacks. Kentucky is a decent kickoff return team this year and a below average punt return team.
Intangibles and injuries
Playing at home, Kentucky will have the advantage of a home crowd. Florida is significantly weaker defensively on the road, but Kentucky is actually stronger away from home. This is a strange dynamic probably due to both teams playing a lot of home games up to this point in the year.
Raphael Little is injured and will not play. It looks like Williams and Alfonso Smith will be available, though. Florida has a longer list of injuries, but it is also a much deeper team, and most who are out Saturday have been out all year.
Florida is coming off a bye week, and Meyer is 10-0 in his last ten tries off of bye weeks. Kentucky is a bit dinged up from the tough tussle with LSU last week.
This game is very even. Florida has more talent and depth, but Kentucky is playing at home, and hasn't been bothered by superior talent all year in Commonwealth Stadium. The Cats have given up yards, but not so many that they couldn't win the game. Florida comes in rested and prepared, and that will matter.
If Kentucky is to win, they must establish the run early in order to keep the defense from teeing off on Woodson. When Kentucky runs the football well, they are very difficult to defend. Defensively, Kentucky must figure out a way to keep Tebow from running for 150 yards. Florida has a big, strong front line and has proven they can run Tebow between the tackles. When Tebow passes, Kentucky must find a way to force him to move -- he isn't very effective throwing the ball when he is forced to move around a lot. If Kentucky cannot contain Tebow, and he is able to get the other Gator skill players involved, Kentucky will be in big trouble.
Florida, on the other hand, must keep their offense diverse. If Tebow is 70% or more of their offense, Kentucky is likely to beat them. Tebow has a tendency to try to run the football whenever he can, and sometimes he can stagnate the offense by doing so. Defensively, Florida has a simple and unalterable task -- they must get to Woodson or lose. Kentucky's receivers are simply too much for Florida's young secondary and linebackers, particularly Jacob Tamme. If Kentucky can run the football, it will be very hard for Florida to get to Woodson, and bad things will happen from the standpoint of the Gators.
Defensively, the team who can best stop the other will probably win, although I think the offenses are going to be the deciding factor in this game. Florida has a better defense, but the Cats give up most of their points in the first two quarters. If Kentucky is within 10 points at halftime, the Gators are going to be in trouble.
It is very hard for me to pick a winner in this game, and I won't be even a little surprised if it goes just the opposite of my pick. But I am going to pick the Wildcats in a close one, 35-31.