Alabama running back Jase McClellan (21) is swarmed by the Florida defense including safety Rashad Torrence II (22) and defensive lineman Antonio Valentino (55) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Florida Defense Preparing for Kentucky Offensive Attack

The now 10th-ranked Florida Gators square off with the Kentucky Wildcats this Saturday in Lexington. Despite Florida being the better team on paper, this game will be no cakewalk for Dan Mullen’s Gators. Kentucky has given the Gators some close games in the last several years, even beating Florida in the Swamp in 2018. The last two meetings in Lexington came down to the wire. Both times, Florida requiring late-game magic to escape with a win. The Florida defense will face a Kentucky offense with big-play potential, something that could be a threat to the Gators after both of Tennessee’s touchdowns last week came off big plays.

Kentucky’s Offense

The offense for the Wildcats has two potent weapons that can make big plays in a hurry. Chris Rodriguez, the running back for the Cats, has put up 520 rushing yards through four games this season. That figure is the best in the SEC thus far. Alongside Rodriguez, the Wildcats have wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, whose 402 receiving yards this season is also atop the SEC.

When talking about offense you also cannot ignore the quarterback. Junior quarterback Will Levis has started all four games for Kentucky this season. Levis has a 65.3% completion percentage this season and has thrown for 902 yards, seven touchdowns and has a quarterback rating of 153.3. Levis has also thrown five interceptions so far this season, a figure the Gators would like to increase this week.

Gators’ defensive lineman Antonio Valentino was teammates with Levis for three seasons at Penn State. Having played against Levis in practice, he’ll have insight on how to counter him.

“Play action and all that only really works if you can establish the run,” said Valentino. “So obviously first rule of football and playing defensive line is ‘stop the run.’ You’ve got to earn the right to rush the pass on first down. We just got to be in our gaps, do our job, play sound defense, and make our plays when they come to us, and I think we’ll be fine.”

Florida’s Defensive Front

The Florida defense has allowed 106.5 rushing yards per game this season, good enough for fifth best in the SEC. This defense has also racked up 16 sacks this season, second in the SEC to LSU and tied for fifth nationally. Antonio Valentino has been sharing his knowledge of Will Levis with his teammates ahead of this weekend’s game.

“My biggest thing was Will’s mentality,” Valentino said. “He’s not very easily shaken. He’s very strong-willed. He’s very strong in his mind. He’s very physical as a quarterback.”

Valentino also said Levis is very good with his legs and said that he will run through you if he is given the opportunity. He is also very capable of airing it out when he needs to. Levis is in an offensive style that he is comfortable in, and he has the right tools around him. Valentino also commented on how this game can be a physical test for the Florida defense.

As for Kentucky’s running attack, Valentino said Kentucky has some very strong running backs. He mentioned that they are very patient backs and they are good at reading their blocks and letting plays develop. Valentino said Mullen tells the defense he wants “Eleven hats to the ball” and how they cannot rely on a single guy to make a tackle. Especially after Tennessee scored a touchdown last week on missed tackles, they want no chance of more missed tackles leading to big plays.

Road Environment

As with any big SEC game, Kentucky having home-field advantage will be a huge advantage for them. Valentino shared his opinion on college stadium. Even though Kroger Field is not as large as some of the bigtime college stadiums, Valentino noted that the size does not matter and it is more about how electric the environment is.

“I’m very much looking forward to it,” Valentino said. “I love going to hostile environments. I kind of feel like the bad guy walking into somewhere.”

The last time Kentucky defeated the Gators in Lexington, however, was back in 1986. Saturday we will find out of Kentucky can turn the tide after a heart breaking loss each of the last two meetings in Lexington, or if the Gators can win their 17th in a row on Kentucky’s home turf.

About Jack Shivertaker

Jack Shivertaker is a senior at the University of Florida pursuing a degree in Journalism with a focus on sports media.

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