Fresh off their dramatic last-second 26-20 triumph over Tennessee, 22nd-ranked Florida heads to Kentucky on Saturday for their first SEC road game of the season. The Wildcats come off their fourth straight victory over South Carolina, but they are on the wrong end of the streak this time around as the Gators have won the last 30 meetings with Kentucky, the longest active win streak in the NCAA.
For Kentucky, toppling Florida would more than end 30 years of futility, it would be the beginning of earning respect in the SEC. “There’s always the steps that we need to take to push forward,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said at his weekly press conference. “We don’t dodge those. We embrace those challenges and we’ll do the very best we can.” But while Kentucky may be playing with a chip on its shoulder, Florida has something to prove as well after two very flawed performances this season. The Gators have high hopes that Feleipe Franks’ 63-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland as time expired against Tennessee will give the team momentum and jumpstart an offense that has had its up and downs with a redshirt freshman quarterback at the helm. Both teams may be missing key defenders as Florida cornerback Duke Dawson and Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones appear unlikely to suit up.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network. LINE: Florida -3
ABOUT FLORIDA (1-1, 1-0 SEC): Before connecting with Cleveland for the play of the game against Tennessee, Franks (18-for-28, 212 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) was not having a day to remember, missing “six critical plays,” according to coach Jim McElwain. Franks was held in check most of the afternoon with short play calls but he will likely have to go downfield more this week unless the Gators -- already hampered by the absence of their top runner Jordan Scarlett, one of nine Gators still under suspension -- can find holes in a Wildcats’ defense that doesn’t give up much on the ground. The Gators defense wore down in the fourth quarter against Tennessee, giving up 231 yards (10.5 yards per play) after allowing just 211 yards and three points in the first three quarters.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (3-0, 1-0): Dual-threat quarterback Stephen Johnson will give a Gators’ defense that has had problems with shoddy tackling something to think about, as he threw for 169 yards and ran for another 74 against South Carolina, including a 54-yard scramble. Kentucky wound up amassing 219 yards rushing, although starting tailback Benny Snell Jr., averaged just 3.2 yards on his 32 carries (102 yards). The Wildcats’ staunch run defense has made opponents one-dimensional this season, limiting them to an SEC-low 57 yards rushing per game.
1. Florida hasn’t rushed for a touchdown since its victory over Georgia last Oct. 29, a stretch of eight games.
2. Kentucky is looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 2008.
3. Kentucky is 10-4 since its 45-7 loss at Florida in Week 2 last season.
PREDICTION: Florida 17, Kentucky 16