The Gators are coming off of a 37-20 victory in Knoxville and enter the UK game at 3-0 with wins also over Bowling Green and Texas A&M. When Florida faces the ‘Cats, it will be their first home game since their opener so you can imagine that the Swamp will be fired up and really loud.
In their win over Tennssee, the Florida offense exploded like it used to do in the Steve Spurrier days. They amassed 555 yards of total offense, the most yards that they have put up since they posted 571 yards in 2001 against Vanderbilt. Needless to say, the No. 14 Florida Gators are flying on high cylinders. And it’s not as if they needed more confidence with their 25-game winning streak against Kentucky. Sorry for the reminder, but the Wildcats have not defeated Florida since they won 10-7 in Lexington in 1986.
Last year the ‘Cats ended the Tennessee streak, heck maybe this is the year for the Florida streak to finally. I know, wishful thinking.
The key to their offensive resurgence is their quarterback, sophomore Jeff Driskel (6-4, 237). Last week he combined for 300 toal yards en route to being named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week. On the season, the sophomore has passed for 495 yards on 37-for-52 passing with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He is a threat to run the ball as well, which is never good for UK. He has 113 yards rushing on the year and that accounts for 55 yards lost on sacks.
He didn’t get a ton of action last year, playing in only five games, so the Florida coaching staff is keeping a close eye on him as he continues to improve and progress at quarterback. All of the intangibles are there for Driskel with size, speed and arm strength. There is no doubt that he is a potential NFL quarterback. Still, this is only his ninth game as a collegiate quarterback so you have to pressure him and force him into making mistakes. If there are knocks against him it is his decision-making and his inability to protect the football.
At tailback for the Gators is senior Mike Gillislee (5-11, 209). He enters Saturday leading the SEC in rushing with 346 yards and he also has four touchdowns. Last year he was third on the team in rushing with 328 yards, but many UK fans will remember him for his 60-yard scamper against the Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium.
This year he is Florida’s clear No. 1 back as the second leading rusher has just 13 carries, so he will get the bulk of the carries. And bulk is a key word because this kid wants the ball. He is an absolute workhorse.
Florida’s two main pass catchers are junior tight end Jordan Reed (6-3, 243) senior wideout Frankie Hammond Jr. (6-0, 187). Reed, a former quarterback, is now his quarterback’s security blanket. He leads the team in catches with 13 and is second in yards with 152. He has one touchdown. His 13 catches rank sixth nationally among tight ends. Hammond is the deep threat as he has a team-leading 164 yards on just six catches. He has two touchdowns. Four of his six catches have resulted in a first down and three came on third downs.
Florida’s defense has allowed 51 points on the year, or 17 points-per-game, but the story is their second half defense and their ability to get teams off of the field on thrid down. In the second half they are outscoring their opponent, 50-13, and in the fourth quarter they have yet to allow a point, outscoring them 27-0. They have allowed just 125 total yards in the fourth quarter this year.
On third down, the Florida defense is holding opponents to a 5-for-24 (.208) conversion rate. In the fourth quarter, teams are just 1-for-14 on third down. Their turnover margin is +3 and two interception returns for touchdowns.
Head coach Will Muschamp is in his second season at Florida after spending three years as the defensive coordinator at Texas. In his first season, he fittingly took the Gators to the Gator Bowl. Florida fans expect more than Gator Bowls, however.
In Joker Phillips’ 22 years at the University of Kentucky (head coach-2, player-4, assistant coach), he has never defeated the University of Florida. Ouch. The Gators have won eight strait SEC home openers.
When UK played Florida in 2007, the Cats were No. 8 in the country. They lost 45-37. In the four years since, Florida has outscored Kentucky, 200-36. Last year Kentucky turned it over four times in a 48-10 loss.
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