Kentucky has come awfully close to beating Florida over the last three decades. Unfortunately, being close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades (or so they say).
To get over the hump, Kentucky must win on the road in the SEC. It’s a difficult task, but one that can be accomplished if the Cats do the following:
1. Start Fast
A point of emphasis all week from Mark Stoops, Kentucky needs to play well from the opening kickoff. With Dan Mullen as the head coach, the Gators have never been punched in the mouth. They do not know what adversity looks like.
If Kentucky starts fast, it can take the crowd of 90,000 out of the game and inject uncertainty into the air. With a lead, UK can rely on the run game and let the game come to Wilson. However, it’s much easier said than done.
Kentucky is a notoriously slow-starting team under Mark Stoops. Last week UK turned it over four times in the first half. Last year against South Carolina, they put themselves in a quick 7-0 hole. That team was able to overcome the deficit with excellent defense, exceptional special teams play and consistent quarterback play on third down.
2. Play Clean
You can beat Central Michigan with a minus-four turnover ratio. You can’t do that against Florida.
When UK beat Auburn on the road in 2009, the Cats had zero turnovers and committed zero penalties. In the same year Kentucky upset Georgia on the road, even though they were out-gained 487 to 260 yards. The Cats turned four Georgia turnovers into points. Kentucky must hold onto the ball and take advantage of every single Florida mistake.
3. Connect on Two Deep Balls
The Cats need at least two big plays, maybe even more, to extend the Florida defense that will be playing the run first. Ideally, Eddie Gran would like to give Wilson easy throws to put playmakers like Lynn Bowden into the open field. They will not have space to operate without a deep threat.
Wilson was close on two cases last week, but was just a step ahead of his receivers on a pair of throws. Those must be on-target in week two. Patrick Towles connected with Juice Johnson on a pair of big throws in The Swamp four years ago and it still wasn’t enough for the win. UK needs at least two to give the offense enough juice.
4. Force Obvious Passing Downs
The numbers from Florida’s week one win over Charleston Southern well pretty impressive, except for their third down offense. They converted on just 2-of-9 attempts. Last week Central Michigan converted only a third of their third down attempts (6-of-18). Josh Allen and the Kentucky pass rush were a big reason why the defense was so successful. Feleipe Franks has improved, but has not faced pressure in 2018. If Kentucky forces him to make plays on third down, I trust Allen, Boogie Watson and Kash Daniel to make plays more than I trust Franks to be consistent.
On the other side of the ball, Todd Grantham is going to blitz Wilson’s shorts off. The Florida defensive coordinator (who UK will face for the third straight year) is always aggressive. He’ll be even more aggressive against the inexperienced quarterback. Benny Snell and the offensive line must make third down manageable with chunks of yards on first and second down.
5. Red Zone Touchdowns
This isn’t going to be the prettiest football game. Rain is in the forecast and each team’s strength is on defense. This has all of the makings of a low-scoring game. That’s why Kentucky cannot leave points on the board. Last year at Georgia the Cats were forced to settle for first quarter field goals. Kentucky cannot leave points on the field. If Kentucky can capitalize on red zone opportunities, along with the four other parts of the equation, they’ve got a fighting chance to snap The Streak.