Remember the 2018 season? Kentucky marched into Gainesville and delivered the long-awaited blow to their 32-game losing streak against Florida. The defense played stout, and UK controlled the clock almost all game leading to a 27-16 victory.
Fast forward two years and two months, and this Florida program suddenly has become an offensive behemoth. As a unit stuck in the mud at Kroger Field in 2019 while Kentucky looked to defeat the Gators for the second-straight season, then quarterback Felipe Franks went down with an injury and backup Kyle Trask came in. From then on, Trask led Florida to score 19 unanswered points after going down 21-10 in the 3rd quarter.
The senior quarterback continued to get better, and exploded on the college football scene this season. Leading an efficient Florida offense, he has thrown the most touchdown passes through eight games in SEC history (31) and has become a Heisman Trophy contender. Along with him is likely the best tight end in the country, Kyle Pitts, who has 24 receptions for 414 yards and eight touchdowns in just five games. He’s missed the last few outings due to a concussion suffered in their win over Georgia, but is scheduled to be available this week.
Kentucky bounced back after losing to Florida in 2019, finishing with an 8-5 record. But this year’s squad has had more difficulties for many reasons. Coming off a 63-3 loss at Alabama, the fifth-worst losing margin in school history, not a lot is going right at the moment. UK Head Coach Mark Stoops even announced earlier this week that the Cats have 18 players out due to Coronavirus or injury issues currently, making the competitive mountain even harder to climb.
What could work to UK’s advantage? Well, Florida is among the worst teams defensively in the power-five. They currently are giving up 410.6 total yards per game, and rank 98th in pass defense with 268.9 yards given up in that category. The Gators also have allowed 24 or more points in five of seven outings this season.
The best way for Kentucky to stay competitive is to keep Florida on their toes defensively like they did in the first quarter against Alabama, and feed running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. if he returns from the Covid-19 list (leads the SEC with 6.39 yards per carry). All of that while controlling the clock in order to keep the Gators’ prolific offense off the field.
Defensively, Kentucky has to force turnovers and find different ways to get momentum. Florida will score, but they must take advantage of opportunities to get extra possessions. UK currently ranks second in interceptions in the SEC as a team (12) and defensive back Kelvin Joseph is atop the league with four INT’s himself.
If Kentucky does not control the clock or force some turnovers and find ways to slow down Florida at least to the minimal extent, we could see another route with UK on the losing end.