It is well known that Kentucky has lost 23 straight games to Florida. The last time they beat the Gators was in 1986. The last time they beat Florida at Florida was in 1979. The 23-game winning streak by Florida over Kentucky is the second longest active streak in the country.
Is this the year they finally down the Gators and Whomp the Swamp? There are many rumblings that it could be, but the fact remains that the Wildcats still go to Gainesville as double digit underdogs.
The biggest difference between the 2010 version of the Gators and the 2009 version is quite obvious. Tim Tebow is now in Denver backing up Kyle Orton. Junior John Brantley (6-3, 220) is now taking snaps for Florida and unlike Tebow, he is a pocket passer. He has opened the season with an active streak of 140 passes without an interception. His last pick was in 2008 versus Vanderbilt. On the year he is 49-of-79 with 452 yards and five touchdowns. Last week he completed 14 of 23 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown in their win over Tennessee.
When I say Brantley is a pocket passer, I mean it. He doesn’t run. He doesn’t provide Florida with any threat to run. He passes the football. On the season he has rushed for -11 yards. In three years he has rushed for 64 yards. Tim Tebow did that in one quarter against Kentucky.
Without any threat of their quarterback running the football, Florida has been forced to alter their offense. Last year they would spread it out and give Tebow that run-pass option. Kentucky struggled defending it. This year they are running a more conventional, pro-style offense. Kentucky has always handled these conventional offenses much better.
Last week Urban Meyer played freshman Trey Burton (6-2, 222) at quarterback a few times, mostly in goal line situations. I expect to see Burton in the game a little more against the Wildcats, especially if they are having success defending the Gators.
The best offensive threat for Florida is junior tailback Jeff Demps (5-8, 190), also known as the fastest player in the country. The kid is super fast and uses that speed to break away from defenses. He is the only running back in the country with two rushes of 60-plus yards this season and his four career runs of 60-plus are the most in Florida history. He has carried the ball 45 times for 310 yards, which is good for a 6.9 per rush. Last year he ranked fifth in the nation with 7.5 yards per carry.
He does it all for the Gators. The junior speedster is averaging 196.7 all-purpose yards per game, which is tops in the SEC and ranks third in the country. He is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield and is an explosive kick returner. He has eight catches on the season for 59 yards and has returned six kickoffs for 221 yards, a 36.8-yard average, which leads the SEC and ranks sixth in the country.
If Kentucky is looking for a player that fits the mold of problem causer, it’s Demps. Prior to the Akron game, the Wildcats really struggled defending the run and kick returns. They didn’t struggle against the Zips because, well to be quite honest, Akron is terrible and absolutely no one will Fear the Roo in 2010. Demps is about as big of a threat that there is in both areas.
On defense, expect the Gators to line up in a 5-2 in an effort to slow down Kentucky’s running game. Against Tennessee they played five lineman for the first quarter and a half, until Tennessee got down and was forced to throw the ball a little more. Their line is young, but it is Florida, so you know they’re fast and talented. Their defensive ends are extremely effective at speed rushing the quarterback from the edge.
The best group on defense is their secondary and they are led by senior cornerback Ahmad Black (5-9, 190), who is the Gator’s best overall defensive player. The senior has started 29 games in his career and this year he leads the team in tackles with 24, 16 of which are solo. His 24 tackles rank eighth in the SEC and his three interceptions in three games are tied for second in the country. His 11 career picks rank sixth on Florida’s all-time list.
Junior Janoris Jenkins (5-11, 184) is also a stud corner. He is tied for first in the SEC in passes defended, with six on the season, and has two interceptions. He has started 27 of his 29 games with the Gators.
The Gators are fast and they trust their talented secondary, so expect them to be aggressive with a lot of blitzes. Kentucky’s offensive line has done a tremendous job so far this season of keeping quarterback Mike Hartline on his feet, but Florida, who averages three sacks per game, will be their first real test. Their defensive ends are fast and are tremendous speed rushers so even when they don’t blitz the offensive line will have their hands full. But, you have to think that the Gators will blitz often early on in an attempt to slow down the ground game and rattle Hartline.
For Kentucky to win this thing, they have to win the turnover battle, contain Demps, Hartline has to continue his strong play and Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke have to do what they do and put points on the board.
Kentucky enters the game as one of only two teams in the country yet to turn the ball over, the other is Oregon State, and that trend has to continue for the Wildcats to have a chance. That is going to be no easy task against the Gators, as they have forced 12 turnovers already this season, and they’re talented secondary will be anxious to pounce on any mistake Hartline makes.
Demps is such a beast, and because he touches the ball so much, he has the ability to alter the course of the game at any moment. Kentucky’s line and linebackers did a much better job of tackling against Akron, but they absolutely have to wrap up Demps. If he gets into the secondary, all it takes is for him to make one move and he’s gone. They can’t allow big plays. They can’t let Demps get free for another 60-yard run. They can’t let him do it in the return game either. Last week Joe Mansour did a much better job of putting kicks in the end zone for touchbacks. He has to do that on Saturday and make Demps take a knee.
Hartline enters the contest 54-of-75 for 680 yards, five touchdowns and zero picks so far this season. His pass efficiency rating of 170.1 ranks eighth in the land. With Florida in a 5-2 set, blitzing all over the place, they are going to put pressure on Hartline, unlike he has felt so far this season. But, the senior must continue to make heady decisions and get the ball in the hands of his playmakers.
Speaking of playmakers, they’re won’t be many games this season that feature three absolute studs on offense like Demps, Cobb and Locke. Cobb and Locke need to outplay Demps. Cobb needs to drink Gatorade, take some Tums and add to the legend that is the “Legend of Cobb” by strait beasting these Gators. Locke needs to the same. Florida is going to score against Kentucky’s young defense. So Kentucky needs to answer and big plays from Cobb or Locke look to be the easiest way to do so.
Florida is fast and they know it. Because of that speed, they often gamble, which opens up the possibility for big plays. Last week Tennessee struggled on offense, but they stayed in the game because Chris Sims was occasionally able to hit open receivers for long scores. Kentucky needs to turn Florida’s strength into a weakness and make them pay for over pursuing. It’s not easy to do, but big play possibilities will be there. They just need to get the ball into the hands of Cobb and Locke and take advantage of them.
I legitimately believe that the Wildcats do have a chance. But, a lot of things need to go right for them to head back to Lexington with a 4-0 record. I am anxious to see how this young team responds to the crowd and the mere fact that they are playing Florida. It will be fun.
Florida 38, Kentucky 31