The 3-5 Kentucky Wildcats travel to The Swamp to take on the sixth ranked Florida Gators on Saturday. Dan Mullen’s team is packed with offensive weaponry including a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in Kyle Trask. The Cats are reeling from a 63-3 loss to Alabama. Here’s how UK can win in the Swamp:
Score touchdowns in the Red Zone. Only Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have scored fewer touchdowns in the Red Zone than Kentucky. The Cats have produced 11 TDs out of 21 trips inside the 20-yard line. Finishing drives in the pay dirt has been an offensive downfall in 2020 and reared its ugly head in Tuscaloosa a week ago. Field goals have been a tricky proposition for the Cats recently. Touchdowns will need to be scored in order to keep up with the high-flying Gators, who are averaging 45 points per game.
Prevent Havoc stats. The Gators lead the SEC in two Havoc statistical categories: Tackles for Loss (45) and QB Sacks (21). Kentucky’s offensive success is predicated on staying on schedule. Early down, negative yardage plays would significantly decrease the Cats’ chances to move the chains. Averaging 5.5 yards per pass attempt, UK cannot live in 3rd and 8+ situations.
Play a clean game. No turnovers or costly penalties. A Red Zone holding call hurt the Cats a week ago against Alabama. A Pick-6 opened the flood gates in the second half. A decisive underdog cannot afford to give this explosive Florida offense extra possessions or hand over defensive points.
Slow down the Trask Machine. QB Kyle Trask is completing 71% of his passes and leading the SEC with 2,554 yards to go along with 31 touchdowns. The senior is in the hunt for the Heisman Trophy and his head coach is fully award of his signal caller’s plight. He’s averaging 364 pass yards per game. Dan Mullen will give Trask plenty of opportunities to add to his already impressive statistical ascendency.
Avoid matchup disadvantages against Kyle Pitts. The tight end was mentioned in the Heisman Trophy race prior to missing two games following a nasty collision against Georgia. Pitts has 24 catches for 414 yards and 8 touchdown receptions in 5 games. A matchup nightmare, UK will have to be strategic in whom it chooses to check the highly effective pass catcher. Single coverage against a linebacker will be a play that Mullen will dial up often. Over-the-top help will be mandatory to slow down the future first round draft choice.
Tackle Kadarius Toney. Toney is Florida’s “do-all” receiver and is extremely elusive with the football in his hands. He’s also Trask’s top target and has caught 42 passes for 503 yards and 7 receiving scores. Toney is also active in the Gator backfield and will be a threat in jet-sweep type actions. Extremely dangerous after the catch, the Cats will need to get him on the ground as soon as possible.
Stop the run. The college football world is buzzing about Florida’s passing game. However, Dan Mullen places significant attention on his run game. RB Dameon Pierce is the Gators’ top rusher with 345 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Snap the football. Enough said.
Tackle Toney. Listed as the team’s punt and kickoff returner, tackling Toney in the return game can be precarious. The speedster can do it all for Dan Mullen.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Projecting impact players is challenging in 2020 due to COVID-19. Both teams have had struggles in this area. We will get a better feel for available personnel closer to game time. Dan Mullen may have the best team he’s had at Florida and is fighting for College Football Playoff respect through margin of victory and the “Wow” factor statistically. Kentucky must be ready for an onslaught of vertical passes as the Gators tend to push the football down the field which is evident in Trask’s 10.4-yards per pass attempt.
UK will be facing yet another nationally ranked offense on Saturday. Its defense will have to find a way to pressure the Florida quarterback while playing pass defense against one of the best skill groups in college football. In other words, another challenge for Brad White and company.
The best chance for a victory will come from the Wildcats’ run game. But, it’s imperative that the Wildcats finish drives with seven points. Empty-handed Red Zone trips could lead to a long day in the Swamp.