I’ve written posts like this in the past. For the last 30 years, we’ve all read the breakdowns of the Florida Gators vs. the Kentucky Wildcats in football and every year the result is the same: the Gators win.
But after 30 years of futility on the part of the Kentucky Wildcats, why is this year any different? Well, I have four reasons as to why the Cats will take down the Gators on Kroger Field.
Usually the Gators have an edge in the quarterback department but this year that’s not the case. Freshman QB Feleipe Franks is 1-1 as the Gator QB and will be starting only his third game of his career and his first game on the road. What are Frank’s numbers? 287 yards for two touchdowns and one interception. Against Michigan in Arlington, his QBR was 47.3 and against Tennessee in Gainesville, his QBR was 51.2.
Compare that to Stephen Johnson, a quarterback that is 10-4 in the games in which he took the majority of the snaps. His total QBR is 84.3 which is tenth in the nation amongst all quarterbacks. He’s thrown for 569 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. But take his running into account as well. He’s rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
Johnson converted on third down after third down against South Carolina with his arm and his legs. He’s making sound decisions, and he’s not turning the ball over. By pure numbers, he’s much better than Franks. Add to the fact he has a winning record and in-game intangibles such as calmness and leadership, then he is by far the superior player right now.
The Running Game
Benny Snell has rushed for 100 yards in two out of three of Kentucky’s games and has three touchdowns on the season. As the offensive line starts to gel without Cole Mosier and John Toth, the running gaps are getting wider, and they have been imposing their will late in the game.
We knew Snell was going to do his thing this season, but he’s getting help from Stephen Johnson, as mentioned above, and Sihiem King as well.
As a team, Kentucky is averaging 156.3 yards per game while the Gators are under 100 yards with 89.6 per game. Their best running back, Malik Davis, has rushed for a total of 102 yards and zero touchdowns.
Kentucky’s rush defense is one of the best in the country with an improved defensive line and a solid line-backing core of Courtney Love and Eli Brown, who made two crucial fourth-down stops on his own against South Carolina. While Jordan Jones will not play, Brown, a four-star recruit, made it known that he is more than up to the challenge.
The Specialty Guys
CJ Conrad is an invaluable weapon that Eddie Gran has in his toolbox. Conrad is living up to his hype this season with 161 yards receiving and two touchdowns. He has become one of Johnson’s favorite and best targets after last season when the Kentucky QB missed him on multiple occasions. Florida’s defense may have the talent to cover him, but it will be up to Gran to test that early and often.
Florida’s best specialty guy is Tyrie Cleveland, who has 149 yards receiving and a touchdown. Kentucky’s secondary has been solid this season with Derrick Baity and Mike Edwards laying out opposing wide receivers and causing turnovers (more on that in a bit).
Lynn Bowden is a wildcard that Kentucky has that Florida does not have this season, surprisingly. Garrett Johnson and Blake Bone also have over 100 yards receiving while Florida doesn’t have anyone outside of Cleveland.
I love Kentucky’s secondary in this match-up.
Creating Turnovers and Overall Defense
Kentucky is tied for 17th in the nation in turnover differential. They’ve forced seven turnovers and have lost only three. Florida doesn’t rank in the top 50.
The combination of Mike Edwards, Derrick Baity, Denzil Ware, and Josh Allen causing havoc for the UK defense has been a big-time advantage for the Wildcats this season.
Kentucky has also been exceptional in the run defense (third in the country), red zone defense (35th in the country), and third-down percentage on defense (32nd in the country).
Florida’s defense doesn’t show up near Kentucky in any of these statistics, and Florida’s offense is ranked 118th in rushing and 91st in passing. The Florida offense is not what it has been in years past, and Kentucky’s defense is markedly better than it has been.
The gap in talent between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Florida Gators isn’t as wide as it usually is and the depth for both teams are about the same with the fact that Florida will be without nine of its players on Saturday night.
The Gators are a Hail Mary away from being 0-2 and while Kentucky has struggled some, they looked like a much-improved team against the South Carolina Gamecocks, particularly offensively, and Eddie Gran thoroughly dominated time of possession and tempo on the road.
There are other things not related to numbers that also give me confidence in the Cats heading into the showdown, but I’ll keep this stats based because numbers don’t lie.