Aside from their Citrus Bowl victory in January, Kentucky’s most significant victory of the 2018 football season was far and away upsetting the Florida Gators down in Gainesville early last year. This Saturday, the Gators will be in Lexington seeking their revenge.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they’ll be without quarterback Terry Wilson, whose best game wearing Kentucky blue was at The Swamp last year. He, along with a generational defense, willed the Wildcats to victory over Florida for the first time in more than three decades.
Wilson, now in his second season with the Wildcats, had shown significant improvements from his first year with the team, but he is now sidelined for the remainder of the 2019 slate due to a knee injury suffered last week against Eastern Michigan.
Replacing Wilson is Sawyer Smith, a Florida native who threw for 76 yards and two touchdowns on 5/9 passing against Eastern Michigan. He began his college career at Troy, where he went 5-2 as the starter in 2018 after replacing the injured Kaleb Barker.
Smith finished the season completing 144/229 passes for 1,669 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also rushed for 191 yards and a score. Smith was then named MVP of the Dollar General Bowl after leading Troy to a 42-32 win over Buffalo. In that game, Smith completed 31/44 passes for 320 yards and four scores.
Now, Smith will get his first taste of an SEC opponent, and it will be against one of the scariest front sevens in the nation.
Florida, who opened as an eight-point favorite, is ranked ninth in the country and presents a pass rush that is a true force to be reckoned with. Florida racked up five sacks against UT Martin last week after getting 10 vs. Miami The Gators currently hold a three-sack lead on Maryland for the most sacks in college football.
Defensive end Jabari Zuniga (3 sacks) is one of four Gators with at least 1.5 sacks, while 10 others have at least half a sack. The Gators’ 26 tackles for loss also ranks second nationally. Louisville transfer Jonathan Greenard has seven tackles, two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He’s also not impressed with Kentucky’s offense.
While Kentucky finds themselves outside the top 25, their offensive line is one of the more dominant units in the country and could very well live up to the task on Saturday. You could argue Florida’s d-line vs. Kentucky’s o-line is the best matchup in all of college football this weekend.
If Kentucky is to have any hope of upsetting Florida for a second-straight year, they’ll have to lean on their three-headed rushing attack, a defense full of new faces, and a backup quarterback who has shown flashes that he can really play.
Odds and Betting Trends
As of Friday morning, a majority of the bettors are siding with Florida to cover the eight-point spread. The line opened a high as 11 but has since dropped down to eight as of Friday.
- The total has gone OVER in 7 of Florida’s last 10 games.
- Florida is 6-0 SU in their last 6 games.
- Florida is 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games against Kentucky.
- Florida is 19-1 SU in their last 20 games against Kentucky.
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Florida’s last 5 games on the road.
- Florida is 12-0 SU in their last 12 games when playing on the road against Kentucky.
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Florida’s last 5 games against an opponent in the Southeast conference.
- Florida is 8-1 SU in their last 9 games played in September.
- Kentucky is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games.
- The total has gone OVER in 5 of Kentucky’s last 5 games.
- Kentucky is 5-0 SU in their last 5 games.
- Kentucky is 8-1 SU in their last 9 games at home.
- Kentucky is 0-12 SU in their last 12 games when playing at home against Florida.
- The total has gone UNDER in 7 of Kentucky’s last 8 games against an opponent in the Southeast conference.
- Kentucky is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games played in September.
- Kentucky is 2-6 ATS in their last 8 games played in week 3.
- The total has gone OVER in 5 of Kentucky’s last 6 games played on a Saturday.
- ESPN’s Football Power Index is following suit, estimating a 66.4% chance of victory for the Gators.
- Between ESPN’s 13 expert pickers, only two picked the Cats to win.
- TeamRankings has Florida winning 28-21, while numberFire went with a 27-24 Gators win.
- Ben Kercheval of CBS Sports is siding with the Wildcats to not just cover the eight-point spread but also win outright.
- OddsShark projects a 37-23 win for the Gators.
- The A Sea of Blue staff leaned towards Florida in this matchup, with six writers predicting a Florida victory while three are expecting Kentucky to pull off an upset.
- Pete Fiutak of College Football News isn’t hesitating to side with Florida, calling for a 27-17 Gator win.
- Esten McLaren of USA Today is following suit, predicting a 30-17 win by the Gators.
- Mark Story of the Herald-Leader thinks Florida is superior at five of the eight major positions with two being a tie and Kentucky being superior at special teams and the offensive line. Story also predicted Florida to win 28-20.
Saturday’s game will be the first game I’ve attended in the stands since Kentucky came back to defeat South Carolina in 2014. Since then, I’ve been in the luxurious press box at Kroger Field, but this Saturday, I’ll be enjoying the Wildcats with my dad behind the 40-yard line.
I say “enjoying” without expectations of a Kentucky win simply because no matter how inconsistent Terry Wilson has been, it’s incredibly difficult to insert a new player at the team’s most significant position and expect the offense to still run smoothly.
Thankfully, if Kentucky has any shot at an upset, it’ll be in large part to their three-headed rushing attack and a defense that has had some new faces blossom onto the scene.
However, the Gators are ranked ninth in the country for a reason, and their own defense will most likely present a devastating task for the Wildcats on Saturday evening. Maybe (just maybe) head coach Mark Stoops and the rest of the football program will prove me, and many others, wrong for the second straight year.
Final Score: Florida 27, Kentucky 19