Coming off a Hail Mary win over Tennessee, the 20th-ranked Florida Gators travel to face Kentucky this Saturday. After their own SEC East victory, the Wildcats come home to a 7:30 EST start in Lexington’s Commonwealth Stadium. The game will be aired on the SEC Network.
The Gators got by against Tennessee with a prayer of a throw by Feleipe Franks and one of the best defenses in the country. Even after fumbling at the one-yard line and blowing a 10-point lead, they managed to sweat out a victory.
Their offense will have to improve if they’re to make a push at a third-straight SEC Championship appearance. But their defense hasn’t taken much more than a half-step back from where it was last year. And star CB Duke Dawson, who suffered a head injury vs. the Volunteers, will be in the lineup.
Kentucky hopes their momentum from a big win at South Carolina will propel them in their matchup against the Gators. This is possibly as close as they’ve been talent-wise to Florida in years, during a stretch that has seen them drop the last 30 games they’ve played against them. That’s the longest win streak by one team over another in SEC history.
But the Gators are currently only 2.5-point favorites.
Much has been said about Florida’s struggles on offense ever since Tim Tebow left after 2009. But one thing has stayed consistent: Florida’s domination over Kentucky. 30 years in a row is hard to bet against. Florida winning and not covering is a tough two-point window to fit into.
Stephon Johnson has made healthy strides at quarterback for Kentucky, but his dual-threat capabilities will have to be on full-display to get past Florida. This is a top-5 secondary with plenty of talent and speed at LB as well.
What they have been prone to do is wear down a bit because of how much they’re on the field. The offense often doesn’t give them enough rest, and the RBs for both Michigan and Tennessee have exploited that. They’ve given up 398 rushing yards in their first two games.
But Kentucky has yet to really get RB Benny Snell Jr. going. They’ve had to rely on Johnson for a good deal of their rushing attack, and it will be hard to scramble against the athletes on Florida’s front-seven.
Yes, Florida will have to overcome their offense. But even with a dreadful offense last year, they scored 45 on the Wildcats. Kentucky, meanwhile, has only managed 16 points against Florida in their last two matchups. They’ve yet to have an offensive outburst this season, even against Eastern Kentucky. So don’t expect it to come against this defense.
There’s no guarantee Florida can even score 21 points in Lexington. But they may not need it against Kentucky. The Wildcats defense has improved drastically with the eight returners they brought back, but it won’t matter if they can’t get Snell Jr. churning in the run game.
Kentucky is certainly playing against history. Beyond the 30 years in a row they’ve lost to Florida, they’ve lost ATS in nine of their last 10 matchups with the boys from Gainesville. That includes the last five times the two teams have played at Lexington. They’ve also failed versus the spread in their last four home games.
The Gators are on a strong stint of 10-5 ATS on the road, and have only won one of those 30 games against Kentucky by a field goal or less.
Kentucky is certainly not to be taken lightly, and are even SEC East contenders at this point. But Feleipe Franks will have more confidence after his big throw to beat the Vols, and Florida has enough playmaking pieces to break through in the end.