Nick de la Torre is a South Florida native who covers Florida Football for GatorCountry.com. He was kind enough to chat for a few minutes, providing insight into Saturday’s matchup with the ‘Cats, takes from the Gators’ opener versus UMass, and also thoughts on UK’s infamous losing streak with Florida. To hear audio of the full interview, check out the podcast I did yesterday below:
On the Gators’ 24-7 win over UMass in the season opener...What was your overall take? Did the Gators just come out a little flat and how much can you really blame on the absence of Teez Tabor, C’yontai Lewis, and eventually Duke Dawson?
Defensively, I think Florida played a great game. You look at one 70-yard scoring drive where Florida had 35 yards in penalties, so they really just handed UMass some points there. I don't think a team that finishes the year 0-and-3, and frankly, gets whooped in those three games against Florida State, Alabama, and Michigan, can use the excuse of, "well look at our opponent, look who we're playing, we came out flat." So when you end the season that way, I don't think there are any excuses.
I think the defense played well. Getting Jalen Tabor back is going to be huge because Florida does have that "DBU" moniker, but they really only have three cornerbacks that can live up to that. With Tabor out last week and Duke Dawson getting hurt on the first defensive drive, leaves you with a red shirt freshman that gets picked on all day. So getting Tabor back will be a big help.
I come away from that game really not expecting Florida's offense to get any better. Florida's offensive line returns almost everybody; if you include right tackle Fred Johnson who started the last couple of games last year, they return four starters. So if they're not getting a push against a defensive line at UMass that, on average, weighed less than 40 pounds than the Florida Offensive line, I'm really concerned about Florida's offensive going forward no matter what pieces you add back to it.
I read your article about the streak. I know the Florida players and coaches are different...at least they talk about the streak differently. But for Florida fans, be honest, they typically just chalk Kentucky up as an automatic win every year, right?
Honestly, if you're a Florida fan, and the schedule comes out, you're putting a "W" next to Kentucky every year. It's just assumed at this point for the fans.
But to me, I think there's more pressure on Florida not to be the team to end that streak. I think because the streak is so long, it kind of lifts some of that pressure off of Kentucky almost to the point of, "Hey we're not expected to win. If we lose, that was supposed to happen, but if we win, hey that's awesome." Especially for the senior class at Florida, too. You don't want to be that class that finally lost to Kentucky and ended the streak.
But for the fans, these last couple of Florida-Kentucky games haven't given them any sense of, "hey, maybe we can't sleep on these guys?"
To me it has; Two years ago there was the famous screenshot of the ball being snapped with zero left on the play clock in overtime. And then last year, another close one in Lexington when Florida escaped 14-9. To me, it seems like Kentucky's closing the gap. You used to get the sense that Kentucky really didn't have the talent or the depth at the skill positions, but I do believe they're starting to close that gap. But for Florida fans, no. I think if Florida were to lose this weekend it would be a complete meltdown in the fan base because it's just something that they don't expect and that they don't see coming.
What can you tell me about the C'yontai Lewis / Jalen Tabor fight?
We weren't there, practice was closed, so all the stuff we've gotten on it comes from sources. But to me, I think it was Jim McElwain making an example because he didn't like how long the fight carried on and I don't think he liked the fact that it didn't get broken up. Fights happen in the football locker room. But I think he wanted to make a point of, "Listen, we've got two weeks before the first game and what we're doing right now can't happen during the season.
Coach Butch Jones at Tennessee after their first week talked about Appalachian State, who took them to overtime, and he said, "Appalachian State is a good football team." UMass isn't a good football team. So I don't know if McElwain could make that example next year when they open their season against Michigan, but I think against UMass he saw it as an opportunity to make a statement in the locker room. It was just a weird situation. Jalen Tabor did end up getting stitches, and it was just odd because he is the only preseason All-American on the team.
In your opinion, what is the single biggest threat Kentucky poses to Florida?
I think Boom and Jojo have both had good games against Florida. If you look at Kentucky in that first half against Southern Miss last week, Drew really threw the ball well. But as Quincy Wilson, a junior cornerback for Florida said, "they like to throw the ball, and we like teams that throw."So for team's whose bread and butter is the passing game, that kind of plays to Florida's strengths with those three talented cornerbacks and safety Marcus May.
I think Kentucky's going to have to get the ball going on the ground to really test the depth of Florida's interior on the defensive line. Florida has two great tackles in Joey Ivy and Caleb Brantley, but after that, they have some unproven guys at tackle. So if Kentucky can run a bunch of plays and get some of the experienced guys on the sideline, get into some tempo that keeps them on the sideline, and establish a run game that keeps them on the sideline, that could do wonders for Kentucky.
I looked back, and I think Kentucky is averaging less than 3.5 yards per carry in the last two games against the Gators. If they can get that up and control the tempo of the game, I think that will make them more dangerous offensively against Florida.
What's the biggest threat Florida poses to itself against Kentucky? Is it the offensive line? Or do you feel better about Florida's offensive line than UK's defensive line?
I know Florida fans are very familiar with Matt Elam, and we were very angry when he didn't come to Florida; it seems like he's had an interesting career, to say the least. For Florida, last year our problem was with turnovers. Luke Del Rio is not going to be an All-SEC quarterback, but he's not going to turn the ball over. So if Florida's not fumbling the ball, they're going to do okay on offense. I think the biggest concern is the offensive line. As I said before, if you can't get a push to help the running game against UMass, what are you going to do when you're facing Kentucky or Tennessee or LSU? So to me, it all starts up front with the offensive line.
And finally, let's hear your prediction, guessing you think Florida fans will all be celebrating a 30th birthday of sorts in Gainesville?
I think Florida wins; I picked Kentucky to cover the spread. Florida I think probably wins the game. I think the 16.5 is a little too high, maybe Florida by 7-10. I think it's probably going to be more of an ugly game like we saw last year in Lexington and not quite the offensive thriller that we saw two years ago at the Swamp.