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Sep 16, 2017; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators linebacker David Reese (33) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Gator Football Puts Streak On the Line in Lexington Against Kentucky

How can a team continue its momentum after a win as dramatic as Florida’s 26-20 win over Tennessee on a last-second cannon to Tyrie Cleveland?

One way is by continuing its 30-year win streak against another one of its division rivals.

That’s what Florida is tasked with Saturday night when they visit Lexington. Not only is Florida trying to continue to ride the high from its first win of the season, it is also looking to continue a historic streak against a Kentucky team that is as formidable as it’s been in a long time.

Florida

While the Gator win streak against the Wildcats is the longest active streak in Division I football, in order for it to continue, quarterback Feleipe Franks will have to win in his first true road game.

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He performed well in his first home start, against Tennessee; his winner to Cleveland was just part of a 212-yard performance on 18-of-29 passing and two touchdowns. Franks seemed to come into his own in the fourth quarter, leading two late touchdown drives just as Will Grier did two seasons prior.

“He’s got confidence in himself, and he’s got confidence in the guys around him,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said.

The Gators will need him to keep that confidence, as the Wildcats currently possess a very strong defense. That means even in a road game in which the run game may be asked to carry the load, Franks will need to come up with big plays to keep the offense moving.

Helping Out the Redshirt Freshman

And just like the past two weeks, it will be Cleveland and Lamical Perine carrying the burden for Florida’s offense. There has been no update on the suspended players, meaning that Antonio Callaway and Jordan Scarlett, among others, will continue to sit out.

Luckily for Florida, there are signs that both Cleveland and Perine may be stepping up to the plate this week.

Cleveland is coming off a big performance that included going for 96 yards on five catches last week.  Perine meanwhile, had one of the best performances of any freshman last season when he went for over 100 rush yards against Kentucky in the Swamp. It remains to be seen whether freshmen receiver Kadarius Toney and frosh running back Malik Davis get more touches in Lexington following explosive performances against Tennessee.

On the defensive side, the Gators are monitoring some injuries. Starting cornerback Duke Dawson was initially called highly questionable after going through concussion protocol although he himself tweeted that he’d be fine to go this weekend. Kylan Johnson, on the other hand, is doubtful with a hamstring injury. Jeremiah Moon will likely start in his place.

Florida’s D has had some mixed results after two weeks. They rank third in the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss (thanks to guys like Taven Bryan and Jordan Sherit). Also, the unit already has three touchdowns on the season, all from pick-sixes, and two of them from freshman C.J. Henderson. On the flip side, they also rank next to last in the SEC in rush defense.

Kentucky

That ranking is the big bright spot the Wildcats will try to exploit.

Two of Kentucky’s three-headed monster on offense are workhorses on the ground; quarterback Stephen Johnson and running back Benny Snell Jr.

Snell already two games of over 100 rush yards. That includes Kentucky’s big win at South Carolina, in which he racked up 102 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. Johnson meanwhile has rushed for 132 yards on the season in addition to throwing for 569 yards while leading his team to a 3-0 record.

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On the outside sits the other big playmaker in the offense in wide receiver Garrett “Juice” Johnson. The 5’11” senior has eight grabs for 105 yards on the season. He led the team last year with 585 receiving yards and possesses the big-play threat with five receptions of over 40 yards in his career.

Big Blue Defense

And while the offense has been scoring the points in Lexington, its the defense that’s been making the noise. The unit ranks first in the SEC and third in the nation in rush defense, holding opponents to just over 57 rush yards per game. They also rank 27th in the country in scoring defense, giving up just 15.3 points per game. In addition, McElwain touched on the unit’s ability to get off the field on third down.

“You take a look at what they’ve done on third down, getting the ball–I think that speaks for itself,” McElwain said. “That’s the key to defense: get the ball back.”

In order to keep those impressive numbers, they’ll have to do it without All-SEC linebacker Jordan Jones for a second straight week. Jones is out this week after suffering a shoulder injury against Eastern Kentucky two weeks ago.

One group of playmakers to look for in his place is Kentucky’s pass rush. Specifically, that would be edge rushers Denzil Ware and Josh Allen. Together, they’ve accounted for 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. That’s a big threat to a redshirt freshman quarterback in Franks making his first true road start. A good early pass rush would go a long way towards making him feel uncomfortable early in what is sure to be a hostile environment.

Series History

Florida leads the all-time series 50-17 and hasn’t lost to Kentucky in 30 years.

Game Info

Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, with coverage on SEC Network and on the radio, coverage starts at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN 98.1 FM/850 AM WRUF.

About Jonathan Acosta

Native New Englander. Follow me on Twitter: @jonacosta_10

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