To paraphrase the great Bob Dylan, seems like we’ve been down this way before.
Kentucky football heads into Gainesville on Saturday night as somewhere between a 3- and 7-point underdog, expected to battle gamely but ultimately fall to Florida in the first matchup of SEC play. Considering how the preseason and Week 1 went, Kentucky could be walking into a landmine … or walking into a perfect situation.
First, the bad. Kentucky’s offensive line was pretty woeful in Week 1. The last time Kentucky had a ground game as bad as the 1.9 yards per carry it had was … last year at Georgia. Now, Miami of Ohio might be a fine team but it’s not 2021 Georgia.
Kentucky also allowed 4 sacks in Week 1. The last time that happened was actually in the Citrus Bowl, when the Wildcats fielded a patchwork group that did just enough to win the game over Iowa. But that necessitated going plus-2 in turnovers and holding the other team to 17 points.
Kentucky’s running back situation is dicey. Chris Rodriguez Jr. is apparently still out for the Florida game and transfer Ramon Jefferson has been indicated as having an ACL tear, which takes him out of the mix. Add in that Jutahn McClain is banged up and Kentucky’s running back situation is senior Kavosiey Smoke, who hasn’t had a game with 15 carries since 2019, and sophomore La’Vell Wright, who has a dozen collegiate carries.
Add in that Florida just took down then-No. 7 Utah with mobile quarterback Anthony Richardson looking like the next in a long line of dual-threat QBs who have given Kentucky’s containment-based defense fits. Add in that the game is in Gainesville, where Kentucky has won once since 1979.
You can see why pundits are diving in to shower love on the Gators, who went from unranked to No. 12 in the AP poll. But is that bad for Kentucky … or is it good?
Mark Stoops’ Wildcat teams love to play the underdog role. Over the previous 6 seasons while Stoops has led a rebirth of Kentucky football, the Wildcats have won 14 games as underdogs. Yes, that does include that massive upset of 27-point favorite Louisville and Lamar Jackson in 2016, but several of Stoops’ upsets have come when Kentucky was an underdog by somewhere between a field goal and a touchdown.
And several have come on the road, where Kentucky won as a mild underdog at Missouri in 2016 (+6), at South Carolina in 2017 (+5), at Vanderbilt in 2017 (+2.5), in The Swamp in 2018 (+13.5), at Mizzou again in 2018 (+7.5), at Tennessee in 2020 (+6.5) and at Louisville in 2021 (+3).
Kentucky’s chip-on-its-shoulder sentiment spreads to the locker room. The Wildcats — particularly recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow — seem to draw daily motivation off of disrespect. Which makes playing a Florida team that the rest of the nation is slathering with respect a bit of fortuitous timing for Kentucky.
"Florida is going to win this game, and I think they're going to win it handily." @Harp41 tells @finebaum. pic.twitter.com/N6CEQP2mph
— Brandon Zimmerman (@BZSEC) September 6, 2022
Calling our guys soft lol @UKFootball will never be soft trust me on that partner.
— CoachMarrowUK (@vincemarrow) September 7, 2022
In recent years, the Kentucky-Florida series, once incredibly lopsided, has been fairly competitive. Kentucky has won 2 of the past 4 matchups. And in the past 8 matchups, the game has been decided by a single score 5 times.
And with the heaping of praise on Richardson, it’s easy to forget the big picture. After all, let’s remember that Richardson showed flashes of brilliance in pre-conference play last season but had maturity issues that surfaced in things like missing a game after injuring himself dancing at the team hotel.
Or that he’s not the only QB in the game. Will Levis had a hit-and-miss first game, but he also became the first Kentucky quarterback to pass for 300 yards in back-to-back season openers since Tim Couch. Solid company.
Indeed, if Kentucky has something extra in its pocket, it’s Levis’ veteran leadership. New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello probably kept most of the bullets in his play-calling gun in Week 1 but he displayed numerous weapons for Levis, who also isn’t bad as a runner.
The rest of college football is piling on the Gators bandwagon. And that’s exactly the way Kentucky has liked it in recent years.
The guess here is that Levis finds a way — whether with his legs or with some big red-zone help from his tight ends or with freshmen Dane Key or Barion Brown making some big plays on the edge — to sneak UK through in this one. Richardson will hurt the Wildcats on the ground, probably several times. But bend-don’t-break is Stoops’ defensive MO.
And after a week of hearing how good it is, Florida’s talented but somewhat inexperienced squad could have a rude awakening to the realities of the SEC.
Everybody else is picking the Gators. I’ll go Kentucky 24, Florida 21. Somebody’s got to stay on Marrow’s good side.
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Playing the underdog role is one Kentucky plays best. Flipping the script has been emblematic of UKs better wins. It’s not clear if UK even has an identity as a game day favorite, other than possibly playing down to a weaker opponent. So, in short, yeah.
However, being the underdog only goes so far. Lots of holes in UKs depth chart, playing in the swamp, and UFs turnaround + AR sure looks like a lot to overcome.
Not feeling salty about UKs chances here, but anything’s possible.
So the key to a UK victory will be that they feel disrespected.
Being an underdog is going to open some massive holes for that running game and is going to make those O linemen gel right away. No more giving up sacks just because everyone is picking the Gators
That’s how it works
Being disrespected won’t open holes, but it could motivate those being disrespected TO open holes. The fact 6’5 231 ld. Jordan Wright has just been cleared to play will help the Cats close some holes also. GO CATS!
What is greater motivation, feeling disrespected by pundits like Harper or being called out by your opponent?
Can some Lexington media type remind Weaver what happened the last time he called out a Gator player before the game?
2022 notwithstanding, UF has been out-recruiting UK over the last few years so it stands to reason that UF’s dominance over UK will continue.
I think Coach Napier has the Jimmy’s and Joe’s AND can put them in a position to win.
BUT – It’s only week 2 and we really don’t know who’s who yet. We get some separation this weekend.
Also – I don’t anticipate 8 false start penalties on the Gators.
I don’t expect 6 goal line stands to win the game for KY either. But, yea it was those false starts throughout the game.
Tayshon, neither do I expect anything that happened last year to happen this Saturday.
I don’t expect to see Dan Mullen or Todd Grantham on the Gator sideline. Nor do I expect to see Emory Jones behind center.
That and the home crowd is why I expect a Gator victory
This game has been close over the last 5 years despite that recruiting dominance, shy of one year when we ran out of QBs and Lynn Bowden was still playing WR.
The Cats are 2-2 last 4 years. Would have another win in the swamp if the refs had the [email protected] to call the clock expiring. Stoops is sneaky good at “recruit and develop.” If Stoops would have had the 4- 5☆ players the Dawgs have had the last 10 years, he would have won 4-5 titles. That’s The Truth!
Lol. I’m a big Mark Stoops fan but that guy over there in T-Town may have had something to say about that.
That is stretching it a little far cats64!
A lot far
Don’t forget the phantom Logan Stenberg holding call that pushed the FG far enough back to miss.
I thought that was Drake that got that call.
And by the way I’m not hatin’ on the Wildcats. I hope they win. I think the empirical evidence favors the Gators.
In the last several years, this game has had so many twists and turns that we should expect the unexpected. Heroes will emerge that we didn’t expect, like Trevan Wallace last year or Kyle Trask a few years ago. I wouldn’t dare try to predict an outcome but I think it will be the most entertaining game in the SEC this week.
There will be some wrinkles with added TE protection and the OL knows they have to pick it up. And UK usually plays down to its competition especially in the opener. Stoops teams are much more dialed in with the disrespect.
This is going to be a good game. UF played really well against a good team last week. That being said, UF has plenty of areas that they have to improve, and they still lack depth. UF had months to look toward the Utah game and listen to people say how they did not have a chance. This gave them incentive and focus. Thye will not have this for this game, they will have to play as the favorites. With UK’s RB situation I will go with the gators to win, but I have no clue what the score or MOV will be.
Outside the Gators’ locker room, everyone is talking about Kentucky’s motivation, the tough game the Gators played last Saturday night, and asking whether the Gators can maintain focus.
Inside the Gator locker room, the emphasis is on execution, cleaning up first week mistakes, and remembering the embarrassing loss in Lexington last season.
Florida will win by at least 10 points.
How is it embarrassing to get beat by a team that is better than you?
Just to be clear, Kentucky earned the win against Florida in 2018. They were in the zone that night. But last season, Florida had double-digit penalties and the coaches had pretty much checked out. The team was a mess.
And Kentucky still just barely won. That said, I do credit Josh Paschall for playing an amazing game. Without his performance, Florida would have won despite not doing hardly anything to earn it.
Finally some objective analysis. This game is a complete toss up in my opinion, but that’s only because it’s in the swamp. Kentucky is the SLIGHTLY better team based on talent on the field and in the coaching staff. Florida may well win, but it will be hard fought no matter who comes out on top. This game decides who has the early track on being #2 in the east, and only Tennessee has something to potentially say about that.
An objective analysis of the talent on the two rosters can be found on the 247 Team Talent Composite, which shows that Florida is the significantly better team, on the basis of roster talent.
And yes, Kentucky has been very good at finding diamonds in the rough and turning them into elite SEC players. But in any given year, those development successes are not nearly enough to balance Florida’s advantage in roster talent.
Also, Stoops has done a remarkable job at Kentucky. But there is no basis upon which to say that the Kentucky assistant coaching staff is superior to the current Florida staff.
LOL. What are you smoking?!
Are Wildcats in trouble or perfectly positioned against Florida?
Hahaha nailed it!
This one could go either way. Florida is coming off of an emotional, dramatic win over Utah last week. I think this is the perfect time for Kentucky to roll in there. That was a tough, physical game. Meanwhile, Kentucky more or less cruised past Miami Ohio while running a vanilla offense and defense. I’m also going against the grain and picking Kentucky to win this one in a really close one. It’ll come down to whether or not Kentucky can win some battles against Florida’s defensive line. If they can eat up clock and keep the ball away from Richardson, they could win this game.
King Charles has the Gators by 13..
UF By 13, or Worse. AR15 will Be done in the 3rd Quarter !
Awesome! We get to play the Rodney Dangerfield card again.
Jobigator88, make sure your around hear Saturday night. We will see if your alligator mouth has overloaded your hummingbird @ss.
I like kys chances but would like them a lot better with CR playing. 28-24 sounds about right but who is on which end is anybodys guess. For ky I look for levis to have a big game and think he will win it with his legs if they win. For flo i look for the ground attack to be there and for AR to get 100 yds or so but just not sure about that passing game if ky stiffens up on the run. if the passing game works then flo may have this one sewn up.
Fuzzy, I just saw the news that one of our good players Jordan Wright Defensive End is back for this game. He had a great game against the Gators last time we played. Which if I recall was a WIN for Kentucky….
Sorry, he is a linebacker. My bad.
They call him a linebacker but he is on the line of scrimmage. With him back UK will be playing more of a 4-3 defense instead of the 3-4 like they did last week. This should help against the run.
The O-line needs a drastic improvement and that is not going to happen in one week. Miami had 4 sacks and Levis had 3 or 4 more passes with defenders hanging all over him. Florida could really embarrass us Saturday night.
There’s way too many UF sunshine pumpers coming out of the woodwork. However, I tend to agree with you. UK fans should be very concerned with how the offensive line played against a team that is nowhere near the caliber of UF. It doesn’t matter who you have at RB or QB. If they play like that again, this game will not be close. The talk about “looking ahead” or “playing down to the competition” is garbage fan-speak. Absolutely embarrassing line play that will need to improve really really fast.
Cats by 2. Richardson fumbles and the cats capitalize by running out the clock.
You apparently did not see the Kentucky offense against Ball State.
No one saw the Kentucky offense vs Ball State….that was your other favorite team.
Nashvillegator,exactly when did the Cats play Ball St?
Was it Ohio Miami or Miami-Ohio? I get those mixed up.
It was Miami-Ohio; I confused the Kentucky Week 1 opponent with the Tennessee Week 1 opponent.
I’m just here for the comments
Isn’t that the reason a lot of us are here? Commentors on here are more entertaining than the UFC!
I just came in for some foot powder.
Who has the better kicker?
I like our kick returner!
Lets also Remember has their been any discipline by coach Napier for AR-15’s DUI for those Gator fans who have forgotten just a few days before the spring game . At least coach Stoops did discipline Chris Rod for his offense that luckily wasn’t worse like hitting a person while driving under the influence.
Lets just see if any good SDS reporters or media members ask ol Napier a about that sometime this season or is it all about winning at Florida minus players wrong doings .
AR didn’t get a DUI. He got a speeding ticket. We will wait for your retraction.
Wildcat, AR is a 3.25 student. He volunteered at a local fire station. He was a spokesperson for gun buy back program for the Gainesville police Department.
I think those actions speak louder than getting a speeding ticket.
Rodriguez also reportedly has some second issue that nobody is talking about, other than to acknowledge that a second issue exists.
Since traffic and criminal charges are public information, my guess is that the “second issue” is an academic or behavior issue over which the university has jurisdiction.
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Kentucky football: Are Wildcats in trouble or perfectly positioned against Florida? – Saturday Down South
To paraphrase the great Bob Dylan, seems like we’ve been down this way before.