Kentucky’s offseason focus was to FINISH. It didn’t do so in a “must-win” season opener against Southern Miss. The Cats now have no choice but to move on as it travels to the Swamp to face a team that has dominated the series for three decades. Neither impressed Week 1. UF dropped out of the Top 25 after a pedestrian win over UMass and is favored by 16.
Here’s how the Cats win:
— Slow the Run
Jordan Scarlett rushed 13 times for 70 yards. Highly touted junior college transfer Mark Thompson and Jordan Cronkite combined for 28 yards off 9 carries. Not exactly Pony Express numbers against a 3-9 UMass team from a year ago. Florida continued its 2015 trend of offensive struggle by the winning game with special teams and defense.
It would be asking too much for Kentucky to stop the Gator rushing attack. Reality is that it’s extremely rare for any team to completely shut down an opponent’s ground game. However, slowing down the Gator rushing attack is a realistic goal. The Cats have allowed an opponent to rush for over 200 yards in five of its last seven games. UF’s offensive line is a work-in-progress and was a point of criticism from Jim McElwain for lacking energy. Limiting Florida to less than 165 rushing yards would only enhance UK’s chances for a Gainesville victory.
Tomorrow’s matchup will feature strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. Let me explain. Florida is at its strongest when its defense is on the field and at its weakest when possessing the football. UK is an offensive team and is the most vulnerable on defense. Whichever team is the strongest with its strength will win the football game.
The Gators are likely to showcase multiple TE’s and tight offensive line splits in order to run directly at the UK front seven. Also expect power and stretch plays that feature pulling OL as illustrated below:
— Play 4 Quarters of Offense
Drew Barker and his merry crew of speedy receivers torched Southern Miss to the tune of 377 first half yards while racking up 35 points. The second half was a much different story as the offense managed a mere 56 yards, zero points, and 3 turnovers.
Going against an upgraded defense will pose a much higher level of difficulty. Kentucky has a legitimate shot to pull off the upset if Eddie Gran can dial up four quarters of last Saturday’s first half explosion.
How it does so remains the question. 96 rushing yards or less will lead to a pending demise. Kentucky must rush for at least 150 yards. To go a step further, those 150 yards need to be equally distributed over four quarters as a second half, run-game drought would lead to certain defeat.
— Win the Punt Game
Antonio Calloway is a dangerous, dangerous punt returner. Grant McKinniss averaged 36 yards per punt a week ago. His four punts also had minimal hang-time. Combine short kicks with a low hang-time and the Cats could be playing with fire against an explosive returner like Calloway. Two options: Kick away from him or improve distance and elevation.
Charles Walker netted zero punt return yards last Saturday. If an opportunity for return arises, the Cats must pounce.
— Stay out of the Terror Zone
Ever watch Shark Week? I never miss it. Those poor seals can rarely depart the safety of their home island without a great white shark rising from the depths to consume the fuzzy little animals for supper. UK’s Terror Zone isn’t in the ocean or even the Swamp. It is the last three minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second.
Somehow, someway the Cats have to fight through this perilous period and psychological anguish of a three decade losing streak in order to fly back to Lexington with a win. Saturday’s opponent will have Gators written across their helmets. But the 2016 version is not of the same caliber as the Spurrier or Meyer teams of past glory. Remove emotion and exterior circumstances; UK has a legitimate chance to win the football game. We’ll see tomorrow come 3:30.
Times are tough in the Bluegrass. There’s no sugarcoating the fact that the Wildcats desperately need a win.