September 23, 2011

Cats look to snap 24-game losing streak to Gators

No. 15 FLORIDA (3-0) at KENTUCKY (2-1)
Site: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky. (67,606)
Game time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: Joker Phillips, Kentucky (8-8 overall, second year at UK and overall, 0-1 against Florida; Will Muschamp, Florida (3-0 overall, first year at Florida and overall)
Series history: Florida leads 44-17, has won 24 consecutive meetings
Last time: True freshman Trey Burton ran for five touchdowns, caught another and passed for 42 yards as the Gators smashed the Wildcats 48-14. Florida led 14-0 and never looked back from there. Chris Matthews caught touchdowns from Mike Hartline and Randall Cobb and had 114 receiving yards to lead Kentucky.
Depth charts: Kentucky; Florida
TV: ESPN
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network, XM 200, Sirius 217 (Sirius Premier package), radio stream at UKathletics.com
Internet video stream: ESPN3.com

Kentucky will win if?
Kentucky's blueprint for pulling upsets in game like is pretty straightforward: Play solid on defense, don't turn the ball over, and don't stall drives because of penalties. No matter how much the Wildcat offense has struggled in the first three weeks, they'll stay close if they can do all those things. Florida also tends to put up big numbers in the first quarter against UK, and the Wildcats will have to avoid falling in a deep hole early.

For the first time since the opening week of fall camp, all five offensive line starters will be available on Saturday. It may or may not help the rest of the offense get on track, but it's an important step forward either way. They'll have to be at their best with true freshman Josh Clemons running behind them. UK will have to establish a run game early to avoid falling behind and to keep pressure off Morgan Newton.

It's an uphill battle for Kentucky in this one. Even if E.J. Fields and La'Rod King play as well as they did last week, the offense is going to struggle. This is the Wildcats' toughest assignment yet, and they haven't done much to inspire confidence going into it.

Florida will win if?
This Florida team isn't nearly as talented as those in previous years, but it still has far more talent than Kentucky. The UK defense struggled to stop Louisville's running backs, and they're nothing compared to what Florida is going to throw at them. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps could have a field day in this one. Florida's leading wide receiver has only seven catches for 93 yards this season. The running game is really what makes Florida go.

Like Kentucky, the Gators employ an unconventional defensive scheme with a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. The difference, again, is in talent. Even if the offensive line improves dramatically from last week, it could still give up four sacks. That's to say nothing of UK's special teams, which have been exploited by Florida often in the past.

Florida has won this game for 24 straight years because, for the most part, they've had better players. That's certainly the case this year. They're faster, more aggressive, deeper, and they're probably better coached as well. The Gators are a massive favorite in this one for a reason. On paper, it's hard to find a way Kentucky can win this game.

Key matchup: Kentucky LB Danny Trevathan vs. Florida RB Chris Rainey
Florida's entire offense is built around Rainey. UK's defense takes its cues from Trevathan. If the defensive line for Kentucky, bolstered by Mister Cobble in the middle, can engage the running backs at the line of scrimmage, Florida's offense will be left looking for answers. If they're tackling him eight yards down the field every time, it'll be a long day.

Cats Illustrated staff predictions:

Ben Jones, Staff Writer: Florida 42, Kentucky 10
No, this Florida team isn't going to win the national championship. But if Louisville can run roughshod on the Wildcats, so can the Gators. Avoiding mistakes might be the key for Kentucky, but they haven't done that well all season. The Gators are coming off a big win against Tennessee and face Alabama next week, so they could be distracted, but I don't think so. It could get ugly - quick.

Brett Dawson, Publisher: Florida 31, Kentucky 13
This isn't a Steve Spurrier - or even an Urban Meyer - Florida team. These Gators don't appear to have the offensive personnel to ring up 60 or 70 points. But Florida still is loaded with speed, and Meyer's emphasis on special teams appears to have carried over. If Florida makes a big play in that area, the game might get out of hand early. I expect UK to play with a fire it hasn't displayed yet this season. If it doesn't, the problems we're seeing on the surface might run even deeper.

Steve Jones, Recruiting Editor: Florida 27, Kentucky 17
I expect a competitive game as UK's offensive line gets healthier, which should help Morgan Newton get more time to throw and Josh Clemons more room to run. Florida's playmakers, such as speedster Jeff Demps, are dangerous in space on the perimeter, but Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy are probably the fastest outside linebackers the Cats have had for trying to contain the Gators. I think UK will generate some first downs, but inevitably it's going to be punting a lot in this game, and protecting Ryan Tydlacka from blocked kicks could be the difference in staying close.

T.J. Walker, Staff Writer: Florida 42, Kentucky 24
For the first time this season UK will be the underdog and less talented team. It'll be interesting to see how Joker Phillips and the Cats respond to that and their first loss of the season. I expect the UK passing game to pick up where it left off and put points on the board, but Florida and Charlie Weis' offense will be too much. UK's pass defense was exposed last week and the Gators will follow that blueprint, attacking UK deep.



 

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