Florida quarterback Emory Jones scrambles as he looks for a receiver against Alabama during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Florida Gators set for road matchup with Kentucky

The Florida Gators football team plays their first SEC road game of the season tomorrow as they travel to Lexington. The undefeated Wildcats will pose a challenge for the Gators as they try to improve to 4-1 and pick up a second SEC win.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Kentucky has given the Gators some tough games in recent memory, going back to 2014 when Kentucky took Florida to three overtimes in the Swamp. 2018 of course was also the year Kentucky finally defeated Florida to end the then 31-year streak the Gators held. The last two times Florida has traveled to Lexington, it took late-game magic for the Gators to escape with a win.

The 2017 matchup saw the Gators trail 27-14 in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Luke Del Rio came off the bench to rally Florida to victory, with the aid of Kentucky leaving Freddie Swain uncovered in the end zone. Kentucky’s last-second field goal attempt landed short and Florida escaped to win 28-27.

The 2019 game was equally tense. Florida trailed Kentucky 21-10 in the fourth quarter and quarterback Feleipe Franks suffered his season-ending ankle injury. Here began the fairytale rise of Kyle Trask. Florida scored 12 unanswered points with Trask to pull ahead 22-21. Kentucky’s missed 35-yard field goal and Josh Hammond’s 76-yard touchdown run made for a 29-21 Gators victory.

Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square (17) tries to bring down Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

This Year’s Teams

Four games into the 2021 season, both teams are playing about as expected. Starting with Kentucky, the Wildcats are 4-0 with wins over Louisiana-Monroe, Mizzou, Chattanooga, and South Carolina. The road for Kentucky thus far has been a fairly easy one, but they have taken care of business nonetheless.

However, Florida is the first real test for Kentucky this year. On top of that, this Saturday begins a three-week stretch where Kentucky plays Florida, LSU and at Georgia. This stretch of games is where we’ll find out how good Kentucky really is.

As for Florida, the Gators go to Lexington with a 3-1 record with wins over Florida Atlantic, South Florida and Tennessee and a two-point loss to top-ranked Alabama. With the Alabama game in the rearview mirror, the Gators entire season now hinges upon the result of the annual Florida-Georgia game. It is important for the Gators to not overlook the games between now and then, or else they might find themselves on the wrong end of a trap game.

The Offenses

Both teams bring explosive weapons to the table on offense. For Florida this season, it has been all about the running game. The Gators currently average 7.46 yards per rush, the best in the nation. Florida features a good stable of running backs, with most of the load being carried by Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce and Nay’Quan Wright. Quarterback Emory Jones has contributed a huge portion as well. Jones has 375 rushing yards on the season, the most on the team. 144 of those came last week against Tennessee.

Florida’s other X-factor is the expected return of quarterback Anthony Richardson. Head coach Dan Mullen said earlier this week that Richardson is 100% and cleared to play. It is expected, and highly anticipated, that Richardson will return to action this week. In his two appearances, he has shown he can be one of the most explosive playmakers in the entire country.

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) hurdles Florida Atlantic defensive back Justin McKithen (11) and safety Armani-Eli Adams (30) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Kentucky’s offense has big playmakers of its own. Junior running back Chris Rodriguez has rushed for 522 yards in Kentucky’s first four games. That puts him atop the SEC and tied for third nationally in total rush yards. Kentucky also features the SEC’s leading receiver in Wan’Dale Robinson. With 402 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns, Robinson posts the big-play threat alongside Rodriguez.

The Wildcats’ offense is led by Penn State transfer Will Levis. This season Levis has passed for 902 yards and seven touchdowns, completing 65.3% of his throws. Levis has also thrown five interceptions so far. Kentucky’s turnover margin sits at -9, the second worst in the nation.

The Defenses

Florida’s defense has at times been lights out, yet at other times painful to watch. No game saw this better demonstrated than against Alabama. The Gator defense allowed touchdowns on the first three possessions and looked lost and confused. After settling in however, they held Alabama to just 10 points over the remaining three quarters.

The Gators’ pass rush is led by redshirt-senior Zachary Carter and his 4.5 sacks on the year. As a team the Gators have 16 sacks on the season, second in the SEC behind LSU and tied for fifth nationally. Alongside the pass rush, the Gators have the fifth best run defense in the SEC having allowed 106.5 per game. Florida’s weak spot has come in the secondary. With 241 pass yards allowed per game, this is the Kentucky offense’s greatest chance to hurt Florida, especially with cornerback Kaiir Elam questionable to play.

Opposite to them, the Kentucky defense has been strong in their opening games. The Wildcats defense has only allowed 17.8 points per game and only 260 yards per game, ranking them ninth in the country in total defense. Leading the team in sacks is sophomore linebacker J.J. Weaver. With his help up front, Kentucky has only allowed 87 rush yards per game, third best in the SEC.

Spread and Where to Watch

At the time of writing, Florida is a 7.5 point favorite over Kentucky. So far the Gators are 2-2 against the spread, covering against Alabama and Tennessee. Despite Kentucky snapping Florida’s 31-year streak in 2018, the last time Kentucky defeated the Gators in Lexington was the last time before that back in 1986. Along with that streak, the Gators have a nine-game win streak against SEC East teams with the last loss being to Georgia in 2019.

The game is set for a 6:00 P.M. EST kickoff on ESPN.

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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