After four weeks of subpar competition, the Kentucky Wildcats will finally be put to the test against a top-25 opponent, the Florida Gators.
While the Wildcats are 4-0, including two 30-point wins, fans nor the team have been particularly happy with the play on the field, which can be best characterized as sloppy and inconsistent, specifically on the offensive side.
Given the talent disparity to start the season, Kentucky was able to win despite the mistakes and inconsistency. However, that must change in order to be successful as they enter the toughest part of their schedule, starting this Saturday.
Things haven’t been great for Florida either, but after a poor opening performance against Utah, where they had just 13 rushing yards, the Gators have won three straight, including an impressive 29-16 win over a top-25 Tennessee team.
That said, let’s look at the matchup and Kentucky’s keys to victory.
Stop Florida on Third Down
While the Kentucky offense has not been great, the Kentucky defense has been a bright spot, as expected from the talent level and Brad White’s reputation. In total team defense, the Wildcats are currently ranked 20th in the nation and 3rd in the SEC behind Texas A&M and Georgia.
That said, one of the weak spots of the defense has been the third-down conversion percentage, allowing teams to convert on third down 45 percent of the time, the second-worst rate in the SEC ahead of Vanderbilt. Contrary, Florida's third-down offensive conversion percentage is just as bad, only converting a third of the time (33%), the second worst in the SEC ahead of Mississippi State.
In a battle of weaknesses, the Wildcats must get the upper hand and force Florida off the field on third downs.
Stick to Your Assignment
Florida does not have a high-powered offense. Running a balanced run-first offense, the Gators rank in the middle of the SEC in passing yards and rushing yards. However, they are efficient in the passing game, using “dink-and-dunks” and completing 77.2 percent of their passes, ranked 4th in the country.
While Kentucky has been the best in the SEC at stopping the run, they are in the lower half at stopping the pass and have allowed a 61.2 completion percentage to their opponents. The key for the Wildcat defense will not necessarily be to get splash defensive plays but to stick to their assignments and keep the ball in front of the ball.
Trevin Wallace has been playing at an All-SEC level, while Kentucky’s cornerbacks, Maxwell Hairston and Andru Phillips, are among the highest-rated in the SEC, according to PFF.
Play with Discipline
For a long time, people would say, “That’s Kentucky football,” after the Wildcats would have some sort of bad luck or make a mistake that cost them the game. While bad luck can happen, it’s something that is difficult to control, but you can control penalties.
Last season and the start of this season have been some of the most undisciplined football since the start of the Mark Stoops era. Through four games, the Wildcats have been called for 32 penalties for 272 yards, among the worst in the nation and the second-worst in the SEC, ahead of only Arkansas.
To correct that, this week, the staff even brought in NCAA officials to call practice and recreate game action. Liam Coen said the officials were instructed to call it “tight,” especially in the trenches.
In what is expected to be a close game, the Wildcats can’t take themselves out of it with self-inflicted mistakes.
Kentucky Wildcats (4-0, 1-0 SEC) vs. Florida Gators (3-1, 1-0 SEC)
Time/Date: 12:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 30th, 2023
Location: Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky.
TV Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Jesse Palmer, Katie George
Radio: Tom Leach and Jeff Piecoro have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Satellite Radio: XM Channel 203, Sirius Channel 98, Internet Channel 966
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Predictions: TeamRankings has Kentucky coming away with a 24-21 win, while DRatings.com is going with a 26-23 victory, Kentucky! I’m predicting the Wildcats to beat the Gators 24-17 after a late-game defensive stop!
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.