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Early Kentucky Football Opponent Preview: Florida Gators

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We're doing early previews for all 12 of UK's 2015 opponents. Next, we preview what Kentucky can expect out of the Florida Gators in Game 3.

Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Florida Gators

The Kentucky Wildcats will return to Lexington in Week 3 to face the Florida Gators.  The game is slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on September 19.  The game will be broadcast by the SEC Network.

What To Know

  • Date: September 19
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • TV: SEC Network
  • Site: Commonwealth Stadium
  • Team Site: Florida Gators Football
  • Twitter Account: @FloridaGators
  • Head Coach: Jim McElwain (1st season)
  • Offensive Starters Returning: 4
  • Defensive Starters Returning: 7

2014 Gators season recap

The Gators entered the 2014 season with hopes of not duplicating their disappointing 2013 season.  The season got off to a delay, literally.  The first game against Wyoming was canceled after inclement weather postponed the kickoff for hours.  The Gators played their first game in Week 2 against Eastern Michigan, blanking the Eagles 65-0.

The first SEC game was a triple-overtime win over Kentucky in the Swamp.  The season looked on the upward trend after Week 3, but over the next four weeks the Gators would only win one time, 10-9 over Tennessee in Knoxville.

The Gators were moments from a good season.  They defeated No. 9 Georgia 38-20 in the annual game in Jacksonville.  In November, the Gators lost two important games by a combined eight points to South Carolina and in-state rival Florida State.

Those two wins would have catapulted Florida and ultimately saved Will Muschamp's job.  Instead, the Gators finished the regular season 6-5 and were placed in the Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina.  The Gators defeated the Pirates 28-20 to win their first bowl game in over three years.

2015 Florida Schedule

2015 Florida Gators schedule

Last Meeting

The Florida Gators continued their 28-game winning streak over Kentucky after a 36-30 triple overtime victory in Gainesville.  For the first time in almost three decades, it looked like Kentucky was going to defeat Florida after Boom Williams reversed field for a 25-yard touchdown run on the opening play of the first overtime.  On 4th and goal, with the game on the line, Florida got away with a delay of game penalty.  In the midst of the chaos Demarcus Robinson caught a touchdown pass from Jeff Driskel that tied the game.

In regulation, the Gators looked like they had defeated Kentucky until Austin MacGinnis nailed a 51-yard field goal with minutes remaining to tie the game at 20-20.  The Gators had not seen offensive firepower from Kentucky in almost a decade.  Kentucky took the lead over Florida twice in the third quarter on touchdown passes from Patrick Towles to Garrett Johnson.

Head Coach

Jim McElwain took over for the fired Will Muschamp on December 4, 2014.  McElwain took the Florida job after three seasons at Colorado State. In his third season at Colorado State, McElwain was named the 2014 Mountain West Coach of the Year after he led the Rams to a 10-2 record with an appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl. Prior to Colorado State McElwain spent four seasons as the offensive coordinator at Alabama, playing a key role in leading the Crimson Tide to two BCS national championships ('09 and '11).

While at Colorado State McElwain turned around a struggling program.  The Rams had not had back-to-back winning seasons since 2002-03 and had won just three games each of the three years prior to McElwain’s arrival. After going 4-8 in his first season in Fort Collins, the Rams won eight games in 2013, its most wins in 12 seasons, including a victory in the New Mexico Bowl over Washington State.

McElwain has hired a prominent coaching staff with some names that Kentucky fans will recognize.  Randy Shannon comes to Florida with head coach experience at Miami, and will serve as the co-defensive coordinator with Geoff Collins.  McElwain has also hired former Kentucky assistants Mike Summers and Greg Nord.  Both Summers and Nord served as assistants under Joker Phillips.

Key Offensive Players

Demarcus Robinson is the next player in the long list of great wide receivers to play at Florida.  Kentucky fans should remember how well Robinson played in the game last season accounting for 15 catches for 216 yards.  Robinson was selected by prognosticator Phil Steele as 2nd team All-SEC in his preseason publication.  He enters his junior season after a good sophomore campaign in which he caught 53 passes for 810 yards and 7 touchdowns.  Robinson should have a better year statistically in 2015 with a competent quarterback.

The Gators will now look to Kelvin Taylor to be their premier back.  Taylor was poised for a big season in 2013 after good games against LSU and Missouri, but he got swallowed behind Matt Jones.  Jones took a lot of the reps away from Taylor, but that does not diminish Taylor's ability.  Despite a sophomore slump, there is a lot of optimism for Taylor to play like he did for several games as a true freshman in 2013.

Offensive Breakout Player

If Florida is going to have any success this season it will come down to how the offensive line performs and finding a quarterback to carry the Gators through the SEC.  The previous coaching staff may have done McElwain a favor by redshirting blue chip quarterback Will Grier in 2014.  Grier enrolled in Gainesville a semester early in January of 2014.  He came to Florida highly touted out of Davidson Day in Davidson, North Carolina.  Grier had a decent spring game, throwing 8-for-11 and 136 yards.  Grier has the tools to succeed and is not void of playmakers.

Key Defensive Players

The Gators, despite all of their recent turmoil, have one of the best defensive players in the country.  Vernon Hargreaves III is the best defensive back in the country.  The true junior is highly coveted by NFL scouts not only due to his ability to cover, but also because of his results.  Hargreaves was an All-American as a true freshman and has only gotten better each season.  He should be considered the favorite for the coveted Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back.

The Gators have in recent years produced a lot of great players on the front four that consistently caused havoc in opponents backfields.  Dante Fowler Jr. was no exception after the 2014 that he had.  The next man up in the long line of great players on the Florida defense is Jonathan Bullard.  Bullard is a monster defensive tackle that is getting projected in the second or third round of next May's NFL Draft.  Bullard is a senior that was an All-American out of high school, nationally rated as a 5-star.  In 2014 Bullard record 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

Defensive Breakout Player

Typically coaching staffs like to redshirt incoming freshmen so they can develop them on the field and in the weight room while saving a year of eligibility.  Cece Jefferson will not have to worry about being redshirted at Florida.  He comes in as the top ranked defensive end in the 2015 class.  He will start from day one in the same position that was occupied by Fowler.  Jefferson is an explosive athlete and true force when getting the quarterback.  You may have already heard of him when he went for days without sending in his National Letter of Intent after committing to Florida on National Signing Day.  Nonetheless, Jefferson will be counted on early and often by McElwain and the rest of the Florida staff.

Why Kentucky Should Feel Good

Kentucky football fans take on the mantra "whatever bad can happen, will" with their team.  The 28-game losing streak against Florida should be Exhibit A with that line of thinking.  As it was recalled earlier in this preview, Kentucky had a golden opportunity to defeat Florida in 2014 slip through their fingers.  Does 2014 have anything to do with 2015?  No, not really.  However, it should give Kentucky fans some confidence heading into this game that this can finally be the year.  The players will be excited.  They have no fear of Florida, nor should they.

Florida will enter Commonwealth Stadium with a lot of changes.  The Gators are replacing 4 out of 5 offensive linemen.  The Gators are replacing their starting quarterback.  The Gators are replacing their starting running back.  The Gators are replacing 4 starters on their front seven.  The Gators have an entirely new coaching staff with new philosophies.  These factors are a recipe for a Kentucky victory.

Kentucky still does not have nearly the amount of talent that Florida does.  Florida is down, in terms of talent, but still has a lot of guys that can make plays and are spectacular athletes.  This will be the first time in almost a decade that Kentucky will be able to line up toe-to-toe with Florida in terms of size and quality depth.

Why Kentucky Should Be Worried

When pundits talk about "looking ahead," it's just that, talk.  Tennessee does come to Gainesville the week after the Kentucky game, but the Gators will not be overlooking UK.  The Florida players almost tasted a loss to Kentucky last season.  Also consider that this is McElwain's first SEC game, and it's on the road.  The Gators won't be taking anyone for granted, let alone Kentucky.

There is also this thing called "the streak".  Granted the current Kentucky roster and staff really has not experienced the streak outside of two games.  However, it still there.  UK was able to break the Tennessee streak in 2011, but the Cats had been close to doing that for several years.  2014 was really the first time that Kentucky had even gotten close to defeating Florida since 2003.

Prediction

Kentucky 28, Florida 24