Kentucky football has a huge opportunity this weekend to really turn some heads. We have read all week about the potential upset chances in this one, we’ve been over how and why. Even some national media folks are helping the cause and allowing the Kentucky upset chances to pick up steam. Whatever the final score is, Kentucky football has a chance to put its best foot forward entering conference play. The Wildcats are in the middle of an absolutely brutal stretch of games; realistically, UK is going to lose them all.
But if you’ve heard it once out of Mark Stoops’ mouth you have heard it a thousand times. We’re just looking to get better. And last week the Wildcats did just that against a very good Louisville Cardinals football team. Play a similar game, keep the pressure on the Gators, and allow the Commonwealth Stadium crowd to carry the energy and the good guys can really sell the program going forward.
Tyler Murphy (QB) — A secret weapon the Gators have is the element of surprise. With Tyler Murphy lining up under center for Florida this weekend and having only eight completions last week against Tennessee, it must be a challenge for UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot to game plan. Florida could stick to the run-first philosophy which it utilized last week, or attempt to unload on a perceived weak Kentucky secondary. Either way, Murphy likes to be on the move, so containment is a must for Kentucky.
The success of the offense will (obviously) flow through Murphy. After all, he is the quarterback. But Kentucky’s secondary can really force the Gators to become one-dimensional on offense by playing above themselves — a lot like they did against Louisville. Early in that game we saw Teddy Bridgewater rattled, not able to scramble, overlooking check downs, and flat-out missing open receivers. But he is a veteran and was able to adjust by the 2nd half. Murphy is a rookie, and if the pressure is continuous, the UK defense could really focus solely on stuffing the run and allow Murphy to jinx himself out of being a true passing threat.
Loucheiz Purifoy (CB) — This third-year Gator is one of the top pass defenders in the conference. With 78 career tackles and blazing speed, Purifoy was a breakout player last season that saw the team rebound from a down year in 2011. Purifoy is a top-notch cover corner, excelling in man coverage. Generally the Gators are comfortable leaving him out on an island with his man and focusing the other 10 guys elsewhere.
Purifoy has exceptional athleticism and with Kentucky’s Demarco Robinson expected to play, he will likely be matched up face-to-face on the outside with him. That is going to allow Robinson the chance to showcase his moves and speed in the Air Raid going deep, but expect his production to be limited. But it will open things up for Ryan Timmons to get more looks in the slot running underneath, as well as Javess Blue and Jeff Badet lined up opposite of Robinson.
Leon Orr (DT) — Leon Orr will have the task of being the first man between Kentucky’s running game and the Gators’ defense. Down at nose tackle this season, Orr has tallied six tackles, one sack, and one tackle for loss. As the first line of defense it will be vital for the UK offensive line to push him aside to focus on the more athletic and powerful linebacker corps that challenges as one of the best in the SEC. Orr’s role becomes even more vital with the loss of Dominique Easley who was by far the best lineman on the team before his injury.
Going against one of the best defensive units they’ll likely see all year, Kentucky’s still-maturing offense will want to take it slow and methodical — meaning run the ball. Orr and strongside linebacker Ronald Powell will have the task of keeping Raymond Sanders and Jojo Kemp suppressed. Much like Kentucky’s defense wanting to force the Gators to become one-dimensional with the run game, Florida can force Kentucky to throw the ball more than it might want to against an elite secondary.
WHO GETS BEAT
Kentucky will have to establish the run game and there is no way around it. Last year Florida’s defense did an excellent job of limiting big plays and always keeping the ball in front of them, allowing just 14.5 points per game along with 287 yards per game. The biggest holes for the Cats ground game to look for will be right up the gut with Jon Bostic playing in the NFL and Easley injured. If the hog mollies in the trenches can clear some space, look for Sanders or Kemp to bust one loose. And if not, the Wildcats will still need to keep the pressure on with a ground and pound to keep the Florida secondary guessing. Those guys outside the box are too quick to just telegraph your plays all day. It’ll be turnover city if the Wildcats abandon the run.
Attacking Florida at the heart of the offensive line will be the crux of the game plan this weekend. Florida was downright horrific on that side of the ball last season and it started up front, where the team ranked 111th in sacks, 90th in third down conversions, and 96th in red zone touchdowns. Obviously Kentucky doesn’t have much room to talk based on last season either, but for a defense looking for holes, this is it. A similar game plan (and a game plan that worked) of the one against Louisville will be utilized: Pass rush like mad and stuff the running lanes. Don’t give the rookie quarterback any time to think and force the Gators to be one-dimensional. This will hide the potential weakness in the secondary and keep the beefy defensive line active. Dupree, Smith, and Jason Hatcher will be very busy Saturday.
This isn’t the first time an unproven quarterback has faced the Kentucky defense this season, the first was Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky who lit up the Cats for 271 yards and 27 completions. Eliot will have to be much more aggressive with his schemes against the Gators’ Murphy, a la the game plan against Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville. Because of the uncertainty and the threat of an aggressive pass rush, look for the Gators to try to keep it on the ground, maybe with some early uses of the option. Murphy tucked and ran for 84 yards last week, so he certainly likes to scamper. But Matt Jones has the speed and more than enough talent to excel getting around the corner.
The Florida defense can play to its own tune. It has the size and speed necessary to control the Cats passing game. Expect to see a toned down version of the Air Raid, as Max Smith and Jalen Whitlow are still having some issues with accuracy, but perhaps more importantly, the wide outs are battling a case of butterfingers. Dropped passes against Louisville were an absolute killer, and if that isn’t figured out, you can kiss any chance of upsetting Florida bye-bye. Look for UF to try to patch the hole on the defensive line to clog the run game, and then just sit back and wait for the passes to come to them. If the guys in the box can control the run game, it will be lights out on the upset chances.