Kentucky heads to the Sunshine State to face Florida on Saturday in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week.
The SEC on CBS opened last week with an exciting overtime finish as Texas A&M defeated UCLA, and hopefully the Wildcats and Gators can provide some similar excitement on Saturday afternoon in The Swamp.
Kentucky: The Wildcats had a second-half meltdown against Southern Miss in the opener last Saturday, blowing a 35-10 lead after going scoreless in the second half and eventually losing 44-35. The Gators had their own issues against UMass, so there could be some opportunities in this one, but the 'Cats haven't beaten Florida in the last 29 meetings and haven't won in The Swamp since 1979.
Kentucky has plenty of work to do but there were some positive things done in the first half of the opener to try and lean on. History (and the +17 line) isn't on the 'Cats side, but they came close in last year's 14-9 slugfest, and Florida isn't an offensive juggernaut by any means. A consistent offensive performance for a full 60 minutes could give Kentucky a shot to snap the streak.
Florida: As mentioned, the Gators' opening 24-7 win over UMass wasn't pretty, but a win is a win. Florida's offense needs to find explosive plays, plain and simple. It isn't running the ball consistently enough to grind out long drives and score touchdowns.
Luke Del Rio, in his second career start, will have to find a way to locate wide receiver Antonio Callaway -- Florida's best playmaker -- downfield for big chunk plays. Kentucky's defense, if not vastly improved off of their second half performance, will provide opportunities. It will be on Del Rio and Callaway to connect or else this could be another low-scoring, defensive minded affair like last year. Luckily for the Gators, their defense is still up to that task.
Players to watch
Garrett Johnson, WR, Kentucky: Johnson had six catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the opener and gives Kentucky a dynamic downfield threat. Drew Barker found him in the first half for scores before the offense went into a steep decline in the second half -- 14 total plays for 56 yards. The passing game has to be consistent or else the Gators will load up to stop Stanley "Boom" Williams and Jojo Kemp. Johnson had touchdowns of 43 and 53 yards in the first half against Southern Miss, and he'll need to provide that threat over the top to keep Florida's safeties honest will be crucial for the offense's success.
Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida: If Johnson is the key to Kentucky's offense opening up Florida's defense, Tabor being able to lock him down can open up the safeties to creep down into the box and try and stall out the UK offense. Tabor is among the nation's top corners and is now the Gators' star in the secondary with Vernon Hargreaves III in the NFL. Long, methodical drives are not exactly the calling card of the Wildcats' offense. Only one of Kentucky's scoring drives against Southern Miss was more than five plays. If Tabor and company in the secondary lock down on the deep passing game, it's going to be tough for UK to consistently move the ball and put up points.
Matchup to watch
Florida's offense vs. itself: The Gators offense can often be it's own worst enemy, particularly the last few years. Tabor vs. Johnson is the matchup to watch when Kentucky has the ball, but when it's Florida's turn on offense, it has to get out of its own way. The good news this year is taht the Gators actually have a kicker that can convert from long distance -- Eddie Pineiro made three field goals from 40-plus yards in his first career game on any level of football -- but to compete against the best of the SEC, Florida has to figure out how to sustain drives and score touchdowns.
Getting the occasional quick strike score by using Callaway's ability to stretch the field -- or Brandon Powell's shiftiness -- would be a good start, but the Gators can't have ball-handling issues -- they had they fumbles that they were able to recover against UMass -- and have to run the ball better. A 3.7 yard-per-carry average isn't great and especially so against a team with UMass' ability or lack thereof. If Florida wants to win convincingly, the offense has to score touchdowns on Saturday, and the biggest thing standing in their way is themselves.