The Florida Gators will be hoping to avenge last year’s disastrous home loss to the Kentucky Wildcats when the two SEC East rivals meet again at Commonwealth Stadium in Kentucky on Saturday night.
This is the SEC opener for both teams, but that doesn’t mean eighth-ranked Florida is not battle-tested. The Gators began the year with a wild 24-20 victory over Miami (FL), after which they blasted Tennessee-Martin 45-0. They feature a quarterback quite familiar with this SEC rivalry–and one with something to prove–as Feleipe Franks did not have a performance to remember in last year’s meeting, completing just 17 of 38 passes for 232 yards with two touchdowns, an interception, and a fumble.
“I don’t see how (last year) has much effect on this year’s game, to be honest with you,” said head coach Dan Mullen, whose team went 9-2 after losing to the Wildcats last year. “They did a good job (and) won the game last year. We grew a lot from that as a team within our program and where we are.”
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Franks was razor sharp during last week’s victory, going 25-of-27 for 270 yards and two touchdowns as he broke Tim Tebow’s single-game school record for completion percentage. The offense rolled up 543 yards, giving the Gators at least 500 yards of total offense in four of the last six games after producing three such performances from 2015-17 prior to Mullen’s arrival. Florida’s defense has been getting to quarterbacks with 15 sacks in the first two games, including 10 in the opener versus Miami, and the unit will need to pressure the Wildcats’ new signal-caller to help a Gators secondary that may be forced to turn to freshmen with star corner C.J. Henderson doubtful after hurting his ankle last weekend.
Kentucky stunned Florida in Gainesville last September, halting a 31-game series losing streak with an impressive 27-16 victory. That helped the program go 5-3 in the SEC last season, good for its first winning SEC record since 1977. But the Wildcats may be hard-pressed to make it two in a row over the Gators because quarterback after Terry Wilson suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week’s 38-17 win over Eastern Michigan. That was preceded by a victory over Toledo
“I’m very sorry about Terry’s injury,” head coach Mark Stoops said of the signal-caller that last year led Kentucky to its first 10-win season since 1977. “He has done so much for our program over the last two seasons, both in leadership and his production on the field. As a team captain, he will continue to be an important part of our team and we look forward to him returning to the field when he has recovered.”
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 11, 2019
The Wildcats’ offense is now in the hands of junior transfer Sawyer Smith, who will make his first start for UK after going 5-of-9 for 76 yards and two touchdowns as Wilson’s replacement last week. Smith is no stranger to collegiate action, completing 144 of 229 passes for 1,669 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading Troy to the Dollar General Bowl last year. The Wildcats, though, did most of their damage a year ago against Florida on the ground to the tune of 303 rushing yards, but Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher Benny Snell (175 yards in that outing) has moved on to the NFL (Steelers) and Wilson (105 yards against UF) is injured. Kentucky out-gained Eastern Michigan 239 to 49 in the rushing department last week.
“You know, it’s not like we gain much. Florida knows what we’re going to — obviously there’s tweaks and wrinkles and changeups to formation,” said Stoops about whether the game plan changes with Smith at quarterback. “There’s things we do every week, you know, and we have a pretty large menu of plays and ideas and schemes, but you’re never going to wholesale change that.
“You’re going to build and tailor to the plays that Sawyer does well and that we’re comfortable with him, but that’s a large variety of plays that we’ll kind of zero in on this week, but Florida knows the basic offense, and the schemes and the basic schemes and all that’s not going to change dramatically. So I can’t see that there’s a big advantage.”
The Florida Gators are:
- 4-1 ATS in their last five overall
- 5-1 ATS in their last six road games
- 5-2 ATS in their last seven games against teams with winning records
The Kentucky Wildcats are:
- 5-14 ATS in their last 19 home games
- 1-4 ATS in their last five games against the SEC