Usually, when I do a game preview, I try to hype the game up a little bit and tell you what to look for, and that is important. In the case of the Florida Gators and Kentucky Wildcats game on Saturday, only one thing is needed to hype the game.
With that said, let’s meet the Gators.
After his game-winning throw against Tennessee, the quarterback job firmly belongs to freshman Feleipe Franks. Against Tennessee, Franks was 18-28 for 212 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. While the Gator faithful are ready to anoint him as the next savior quarterback, he had just 149 yards passing until that final heave.
While the numbers don't bring back the nostalgia of the "fun and gun" days, Franks has been poised and solid thus far. He has completed 62.2% of his passes and averages 7.76 yards per attempt. He is not a mobile threat, and this will be his first true road game in what should be a rowdy Kroger Field.
It is interesting to see that Luke Del Rio is second on the depth chart while former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zairehas dropped to third. As the only dual-threat quarterback on the roster, Jim McElwain has said that Zaire would not be forgotten and I would not be shocked to see him make an appearance.
As of this writing, the future of the nine suspended Gators was still up in the air. This is a big hit to the Gators offense as playmakers Jordan Scarlett and Antonio Callaway are among the suspended.
The Gator running game has struggled without Scarlett, as the Gators are averaging just 3.2 yards a carry and they have gained just 217 yards and have not dented the end zone via the ground yet.
Freshman Malik Davis leads the team with 102 yards on just five carries, and one of those was a 74-yard scamper against Tennessee. Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson have shared the main tailback duties with Perine getting slightly more carries. They only average 3.5 yards a carry. Not having Jordan Scarlett on Saturday could be a big day for the Kentucky run defense.
Star receiver Antonio Callaway is another of the Gators that have been suspended, and the Gator pass offense misses him. Sophomore Tyrie Cleveland has emerged as the deep threat for Florida, and he has nine catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. Josh Hammond is averaging 15.5 yards in six receptions, and this is a receiving corps that can stretch the field, even without Callaway. Kadarius Toney and Brandon Powell fill out the rotation. TE DeAndre Goolsby, who was expected to be a big part of the offense, was supposed to play against Tennessee but did not. He should play some on Saturday.
Even before the suspensions, new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon was challenged with replacing eight starters on defense. HE is one of the better defensive minds, but this has not been the usual powerhouse Gator defense. Opposing offenses have averaged 199 yards a game and are rushing at a 4.9 yard a carry clip.
CeCe Jefferson is a solid pass rusher and has a sack and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Sophomore Jabari Zuniga is building on his strong freshman season and has eight tackles. Senior Jordan Sherit leads the team with two sacks. Sophomore Jachai Polite has 11 tackles.
Sophomore David Reese has thrived so far at the LB spot and leads the team with 18 tackles, and he has an interception. He reads the plays well and always seems to end up where the ball is. Starting strongside linebacker Kylan Johnson missed the Tennessee game with a hamstring injury but should see some action. Vosean Joseph is a hard hitter and the enforcer of the linebacking corps.
Coming into the season, the Gator defensive backfield has the most questions, and while they have played well, it is not the shutdown pass defense you expect from Florida. They have given up 239 yards a game but have been an opportunistic defense.
Duke Dawson has picked off two passes and has nine tackles. Freshman CJ Henderson has been a pleasant surprise and has two interceptions to go with seven tackles. Chauncey Gardner was the Outback Bowl MVP, and he has 10 tackles and two of them for a loss. DB Nick Washington has been solid with 13 tackles.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
In my career as a blogger, I have picked Kentucky to end this horrendous streak perhaps four to five times. And to be fair, Kentucky should have won at least two of those games. This is perhaps the first time that I have really felt that this was the year that the streak would happen. This is the best Kentucky football team of the past six years or so, and this is the most vulnerable Gators team in at least a decade.
And this was my view before nine players were suspended. So whether or not the suspended players play, this is a very good chance for Kentucky to break this streak.
For Jim McElwain’s reputation as an offensive genius, this Gator offense has been underwhelming at best since his arrival. While Felipe Franks is the best of the quarterbacks on the Gators roster, he is still a freshman that is playing his first true road game. And he more than likely will be missing his top two playmakers. There is still talent on the Gators roster, but they have lost their depth advantage over Kentucky. This has been an offense that has struggled to score and even if Scarlett and Callaway return, that will still be the case. The Gators have averaged just 286 yards a game without the pair.
Defensively, the Gators will be tested. The Gators have given up an average of 437.5 yards a game and 6.0 yards a play. This is definitely not the Gators defense of old. The one saving grace is that the defense has locked down in the red zone and have allowed just one touchdown in seven red zone trips by the opponents.
For perhaps the first time in a decade, the talent disparity is pretty even between these two teams. Kentucky has their first sold-out game in years, and I could not think of a better time for this horrible streak to end. I know that I have said this before, but this streak has to end sometime, That time is now.
Let's call it 23-17 for the Wildcats.