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Kentucky vs. Florida roundtable and predictions

Can the Cats start their own streak? Our staff offers their predictions.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 08 Kentucky at Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats will take on the Florida Gators Saturday night in Lexington, as both teams look to start the season 3-0.

After losing for 31 straight seasons, the Cats were finally able to knock off the Gators last season in Gainesville.

Kentucky has been the better team each of the last two seasons, and three of the last four, despite only winning once in that timeframe. This time, Dan Mullen’s squad comes in as a top-10 team looking to avenge last year’s loss.

However, Mark Stoops and Co. will be out to prove that they didn’t just build one good team, they built a program that will last. And the true testament to Stoops’ assertion will be on full display this coming weekend.

So, will the Cats be able to start their own streak against the Gators?

We gathered the staff to offer up their thoughts on Saturday night’s showdown.

Nick Wheatley

The second toughest game on the schedule is going down Saturday night as the Cats take on the Gators.

The loss of Terry Wilson is a big one and while his ceiling is much higher than Sawyer Smith’s, I don’t think it’s a huge drop off. Wilson hasn’t been so good that he’s irreplaceable this season. I think Smith is more than capable of helping the Cats win 9-10 games. This is still a run-first, ball-control offense.

With that being said, Kentucky will need Smith to be smart in his decision-making, and, hopefully, hit some of the deep balls that he loves to throw. To do so, he’ll need the receiving corps we saw in Week 1 to show up rather than the poultry group we saw in Week 2.

The Cats can beat the Gators. It’s no small task, but they are more than capable. Kentucky has been the better team three out of the last four years, and they very well might be again this year despite all the hype in Gainesville.

UK has a better run game, mainly due to one of the best offensive lines in the country. And Kentucky’s defense is real. Florida’s rushing attack isn’t very potent and shouldn’t scare anyone in the slightest, especially if the front seven takes care of a mediocre offensive line for the Gators.

However, there are two things that do scare me and could be why Florida leaves Lexington with the win.

First, Feleipe Franks could completely carve up Kentucky’s inexperienced secondary. The secondary is much better than many anticipated before the year, but this is still a huge concern. Franks hasn’t been the best on the road in his career, but a big day from him could ruin the Cats’ upset bid.

Second, Florida’s defensive line is scary. I mean, best in the SEC and top three in the country scary. The good news is Kentucky has been one of the best teams in the country in pass protection so far. However, this matchup will be one of the most important on Saturday night.

If Florida is able to wreak havoc all game long up front, the Cats stand no chance, especially with a new quarterback under center. But if Kentucky is able to limit the pressure and stall that big and athletic defensive front, then they can come out victorious.

It will take a monumental effort with few mistakes for UK to get the win. It’s possible, and I wouldn’t be surprised, but I just can’t pick the Cats to beat a team for a second consecutive year after losing for 31 years straight. Cats drop a heartbreaker.

Prediction: Florida 17, Kentucky 13

Clark Brooks

It goes without saying that losing your starting quarterback is not an ideal occurrence. The good news for the BBN is that things shouldn’t change all that much with Sawyer Smith under center in place of Terry Wilson.

Inside zone reads and Run-Pass Options will still be the core of this offense and UK’s success will hinge on its ability to run the ball. Smith is also a good enough athlete to make some plays with his legs. But protecting him should be priority one. So it is not entirely out of the question for UK’s offensive staff to instruct Smith to be delicate with his option keep changes.

Wilson finished essentially middle of the road across the board amongst SEC starters. His 2019 ended with him finishing 8th Success Rate, 6th in Explosive Pass Rate, 8th in Y/C, 7th in DB Break Up Rate, 6th in Interceptable Pass Rate, and 9th in First Down+Touchdown Rate.

The continued emergence of UK’s young playmakers will be paramount if they want to extend their win streak against the Gators. UK is the 5th best offense in the SEC at generating explosive plays right now and currently sports the conference’s 3rd best rushing success rate.

These are a big reason why ESPN’s SP+ metric has the Cats’ offense in the top 20. But Florida’s defense will obviously be the biggest test so far this season. Florida has the S&P’s 6th best defense in the nation. They will no doubt look to make Sawyer Smith beat them.

The question is can UK’s young defense do enough to get Florida out of rhythm offensively. If they can make Florida play behind the chains, perhaps they can force Felipe Franks into a turnover situation.

Feleipe Franks has displayed plenty of examples of exhibiting scattershot passing in his collegiate career. He currently is dead last in interception rate among SEC starters and over 20% of his attempts against Miami weren’t catchable. They will try to lean into their own read looks as well as their screen game to win in space against a less athletic UK team.

A loss is the most likely outcome for the Cats, but this game should be a lot closer than what it is on paper. Still in the end, I feel Florida is able to run the ball and keep UK just out of striking distance. UK comes up one possession short in a close game throughout.

Prediction: Florida 27, Kentucky 21

Shane Shackelford

This is the first opportunity for UK to play its way into the top 25 with a victory over Florida. The big question to me isn’t so much what new starting QB Sawyer Smith does in relief of injured Terry wilson, it’s whether or not the Cats defense can make the next step into the type of defense that can stop a top offense.

If the Cats can stop the speedy Gators or at least slow them down, I believe the Cats can do enough on offense with their run game and play-action passing to score enough points to win.

A win over Florida places the Cats in the top 25 and the driver’s seat for at least second place in the SEC East and finally some recognition for the type of program Mark Stoops is building in Lexington.

I’m going Cats! Cats! Cats!

Prediction: Kentucky 24, Florida 17

Drew Brown

It feels strange even talking about a Kentucky - Florida football game and “the streak” not dominating the headlines. Although a season ending quarterback injury is equally as difficult to process.

Nonetheless, Saturday’s game is still arguably the most important game on UK’s schedule and will have a major impact on potential postseason placement.

All of that being said, I believe the Cats, even without Terry Wilson, can beat the Gators if they play a near flawless game.

It will take a big time effort from guys like Lynn Bowden and the two running backs on the offensive end. The big match-up to keep your eye on will be UK’s offensive line versus UF’s defensive front. The winner of this battle in the trenches will probably win the game. Florida already has 15 sacks in just two games.

If Mark Stoops and company could pull off another upset of Florida it would be monumental. Beating the Gators twice in as many years would provide concrete evidence that the Cats are now a legitimate contender in the SEC East, not just a one year fluke.

As much as I want to pick Kentucky it’s just tough to predict a victory in their first game without their leader on offense.

Gators win, but UK keeps it competitive.

Prediction: Florida 28 Kentucky 17

Jason Marcum

Finally, we’ll get to see Kentucky play a football game against Florida without the burden of a three-decade losing streak weighing on them. While Mark Stoops always said the streak wasn’t something they thought about, it was painfully evident that the streak was making players tight anytime they played the Gators, especially in the last two meetings in Lexington with lots of expectation that those were the years the streak would finally die.

Florida will have some key players out in wide receiver Kadarius Toney, who is like the Gators’ version of Lynn Bowden. Likely missing the game is CJ Henderson, who is one of the best corners in college football and a likely first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

Meanwhile, Kentucky got a big addition in the form of Xavier Peters, who should instantly improve the Cats’ already-solid pass rush (rank 31st nationally in total sacks with 6). Feleipe Franks is already erratic when he’s got a clean pocket, so keeping him pressured all night should make things interesting.

But all of this pales in comparison to Kentucky losing Terry Wilson to his season-ending injury last week, leaving Sawyer Smith to make his first career start after transfering from Troy.

I don’t know how Smith will perform this week. What I do know is Wilson had one of the best games of his UK career when they played in Gainesville last season, and I expected another big performance for this year’s matchup in Lexington.

Saying this, I don’t think losing Wilson will be the difference in this game, and I actually think Smith will have a solid debut against a depleted Florida secondary.

But the Gators are bringing their ‘A’ game to Kroger Field in search of revenge for last year’s upset. For the last year, they’ve had the bad taste in their mouth of being the team that finally allowed Kentucky to break the streak, so they’ll come into Lexington pissed and ready to take it to the Cats for four quarters.

The Cats fight hard, but the Gators prove to be too much.

Prediction: Florida 37, Kentucky 20

Adam Haste

Well, it’s the Cats and the Gators in a matchup that is going to see high emotions from start to finish.

The Cats are coming off their streak ending win a year ago in the swamp and will be looking to get on a little streak of their own.

If the Cats can come away with the win Saturday night, it will be a huge step toward becoming a consistent power in the SEC. We all see what the national media says about the Cats. A win this week will continue to prove them wrong and break down a big door for this program.

As far as the matchup goes, Florida’s defensive line is extremely talented, but so is UK’s offensive line, which has been one of the nation’s best through two games. I think this one is going to come down to which line wins in the trenches between UK’s o-line and Florida’s d-line.

I see the Cats coming out strong wanting to rally behind Sawyer Smith and wanting to get a big win for Terry, and in the end, I think the Cats beat the Gators for a second straight year.

Prediction: Kentucky 27, Florida 21

Sam Gillenwater

After snapping a thirty-one year losing streak to the Gators last season, that monkey is finally off the Wildcats back heading into this weekend’s game. Florida is a much more talented team this go around, though, as they currently sit at #9 in the current AP poll. Both teams are facing injuries that will impact their play, but this game has large implications regardless.

Feleipe Franks has been an inconsistent quarterback at times, but he’s started the season off well with a 77.8% completion percentage for 524 yards through two games. One was against Tennessee Martin, but the other was against a solid Miami defense.

The Gators will be without Kadarius Toney and CJ Henderson, though, which takes away two big performers for Florida. Kentucky has more to figure out, though, as they will send out Sawyer Smith, a transfer from Troy, at quarterback in place of the injured Terry Wilson.

Smith stepped into the starting role at Troy after Kaleb Barker was injured and led the Trojans to a 5-2 record as well as a bowl game, but the SEC is a whole new ball game. Without the starting reps, no one really knows what to expect out of Smith heading into the weekend.

Smith could be great for the Cats as the season progresses, but to be thrown out in a game and environment like this for your SEC debut is a lot of pressure. There will be a small margin for error against a team like Florida and with a lot of questions trying to get answered on the fly throughout the game, I think it will end up costing the Wildcats in the end.

Knock on wood that it won’t last another thirty plus years until the next Wildcat win against the Gators, but I expect another loss to Florida this weekend

Prediction: Florida 31, Kentucky 17

Dan Harris

The big thing I will be watching is the UK offense going against Florida’s vaunted defense. UK has the big, experienced offensive line to give Florida’s pass rush a true test. UK’s ground game has not missed a beat with the steadiness of AJ Rose and the explosiveness of Kovasiey Smoke, while Chris Rodriguez has shown some flashes as well.

Quarterback is the unknown, but Sawyer Smith did come through with big performances vs. 10-win Buffalo and Georgia Southern teams while at Troy last season.

I’m a little worried about UK’s defense after the performance over the final two and half quarters last week. Mike Glass threw the short pass at will, and 75% of Feleipe Franks completions this year have been for 10 yards or less. And even though Franks was inconsistent against Miami, he played well enough for his team to win.

Which brings me to my second worry: revenge. Franks had a terrible game against Kentucky two years ago and had to be replaced mid-game, and last year, he captained the first Florida loss to Kentucky in 31 years. And that’s just Franks; I am sure the rest of the Gators are “chomping” at the bit.

But I started optimistically, so I’ll end that way too. I have faith Brad White will spend the week fixing the coverage problem (I suspect the late addition of Xavier Peters may help, too) and the offense will play well enough in their first full game with Smith at the controls.

Prediction: Kentucky 27, Florida 20

Jamie Boggs

It was great to see Kentucky beat the streak and take down the Gators in The Swamp last year. The Wildcats seemed to be just as talented as Florida, and down the stretch showed that they wanted it more.

The Gators should be taking a step forward this season, with a great recruiting class coming in and Dan Mullen getting another year to get his guys on the same page. Kentucky seems to have more depth than ever before, but how will they replace legends like Benny Snell and Josh Allen?

Florida has not been overly impressive in their first two outings, but unfortunately Kentucky took a major hit last week with Terry Wilson going down.

Whether or not Wilson played against Florida, I had always penciled this in as a Gator victory on the schedule. I simply think they have better players, and especially now that Kentucky is in the middle of an adjustment I think Florida takes care of business on the road.

Prediction: Florida 35, Kentucky 14