No one could have predicted last week’s loss to Western Kentucky — not even the WhatIfSports prediction engine. With as powerful as the Cats offense had looked in weeks prior, there was nary hint the Hilltoppers could hang with Kentucky, dominate Kentucky, and much less win the game… But it happened and the Cats sit at 1-2 on the young season, heading into the toughest stretch of opponents any team in the country will face.
What happened against WKU that the projection missed? Put simply: turnovers happened. The simulation predicted only a single turnover from the Cats, not four picks from the starting quarterback. Those four interceptions were enough to turn the tides of the game early on and disrupt the flow of the UK offense for the entire game. The Toppers capitalized on mistakes.
On the positive side, the Western game was the third-straight week that the WIS prediction has underestimated the passing attack. Turnovers aside, Maxwell Smith aired it out for 332 yards of the 373-yard offensive total and completed 37 passes. Whether it is out of necessity for how pitiful the ground game has been or not, by and large, Smith is still playing very well at quarterback.
Now looking ahead to Saturday’s game in The Swamp. WIS remains conservative in their picks, taking Florida 23-12 with a mere 19.8% chance of victory for Kentucky. The Vegas spread is up to -23.5 for Florida — so needless to say, there is a good chance this final score prediction is far off.
Florida has been very un-Florida in the first year since Will Muschamp took over for Urban Meyer. Losing games has never been in the plans for Gators fans, but lose they did — six of their final nine in 2011, and five of their final nine in 2010. However, 2012 looks like a new-found Florida team. Ranked No. 23 in the country and on the upswing, the Gators are led by their own sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Mike GIllislee who leads the SEC in rushing yards.
Kentucky comes in, as they will against a lot of SEC teams, a big underdog with nothing to lose. If there were ever a time to beat Florida and end the 25-game streak it was last year in Commonwealth Stadium, but after that it is now. UF is only going to get stronger, and by the looks of it the talent gap will continue inflate. If Joker Phillips wants to regain the ground lost and more from last week, he’ll create winning game plan and execute on Saturday. For the love of all that is good, don’t get blown out.
Is it too much to ask for a miracle? WIS predicts 95 rushing yards from Kentucky, far from the 67-yard-per-game average they have in two losses. Predicted passing yards at 169 may not be far off, as this will be the stiffest defense the Cats have seen all season. Florida is predicted to pile up 340 yards of total offense; based on what they did to Tennessee last week, collecting 555 yards, the final tally could be well above that predicted total.
One final bit to consider about these two teams. Kentucky and Florida have nearly polar opposite offensive philosophies and how effective they are. UK is averaging 322 yards passing (13th in the country) and only 106 yards rushing (106th). Compare that to UF which averages 176 yards passing (107th) and 232 yards rushing (22nd).
I’ll leave you with this statistic that can only make you sigh: Florida has won the last four meetings against Kentucky by a combined score of 200-36.