Florida Gators football opened the 2016 season with a bid of a thud and lost its AP Top 25 ranking because of it. Now Florida will look to regain some national respect against an opponent that it has defeated 29 straight times.
Here’s what you need to know and how you can watch Florida-Kentucky.
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, Florida [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather: 89°F (feels like 95°F), 25 percent chance of rain, winds E at 5 mph
Time: 3:30 p.m. EST
TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, Allie LaForce)
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
Tale of the tape
|Florida Gators||Kentucky Wildcats|
|Head Coach||Jim McElwain||Mark Stoops|
Five things to know
1. Welcome back: Not that the Gators were completely short-handed against the Minutemen last week, but Florida bringing star junior cornerback Jalen Tabor and starting-caliber redshirt sophomore tight end C’yontai Lewis back into the fold gives the team more firepower on both ends. Add in players coming off suspension and a couple Week 1 injuries that were deemed not to be serious (see below) and you have UF basically at full strength in its first SEC game of the year.
2. The Cats can roll: Against a top-tier defense like the one Florida will put on the field Saturday, Kentucky should not be able to put up a bunch of points. Still, the Wildcats have showcased some offensive firepower over the last year-plus, which has earned the attention of McElwain and defensive line coach Chris Rumph. The latter joked that Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker “scares me a little bit because he’s more athletic than I’d like for him to be.” McElwain cautioned that he likes the Wildcats’ offensive skill players, noting that the Gators need to do more than play defense and rely on redshirt sophomore kicker Eddy Pineiro to win the game.
3. Getting “explosive”: Speaking of Kentucky’s offense, it did what Florida could not one week ago — connect on explosive plays of 30 yards or longer. In fact, UK had six in its loss to Southern Miss, compared to exactly zero for UF against UMass. One reason the Gators struggled in that area was offensive line play, which McElwain believes will be improved this week. McElwain thought Florida’s energy was “pretty good” in practice but noted the unit still needs to “continue to grow” and learn not only its assignments but “the technique piece” that’s important to being a cohesive offensive line. Long story short, the Gators have their full complement of healthy playmakers this week, so there should be no excuses.
4. Cleaning up the penalties: As much as Florida did struggle against UMass, the only score the Gators allowed the Minutemen occurred on a drive in which the visitors racked up 35 penalty yards, many of which extended the drive on failed third-down conversion attempts. Rumph said penalties were a major emphasis in practice over the last week and should not be an issue this week. Perhaps with the first-game jitters out of the way, that will be the case.
5. Going for 30: Florida can say all it wants that it’s ignoring the 29-game winning streak over Kentucky, but it’s still there and remains incredibly impressive. The Gators have the longest active winning streak in the nation against a single opponent (1987-present), which is also the fourth-longest all-time in an uninterrupted series. Florida has also beaten Kentucky in 18 consecutive games inside The Swamp, a streak that dates back to 1979. With UF campaigning all offseason that “The Swamp is Back,” it would be quite embarrassing to see it all come crashing down Saturday. Working for UK is a streak of its own as the Wildcats have won their second game of the season 18 consecutive times.
Pick and analysis
Spread: Florida -16 | O/U: 50
Despite everything telling me not to last week, I backed Florida to cover five touchdowns against UMass. What a mistake. The Gators’ offense, while it avoided disastrous mistakes, remained inefficient. UF has not chosen a No. 1 running back and refused to throw the ball down the field against a porous secondary — though offensive line play had some to do with that. How exactly is this Florida team going to fare against SEC competition in Week 2?
The Gators should win this game and will probably do so convincingly, but requiring me to take them by three scores is just too much. UF has defeated UK by a combined 11 points over the last two years, though it did previously win six straight by at least 17 points, including a number of massive blowouts.
Just as Florida struggled on offense (McElwain’s specialty) in its opener, Kentucky had issues on defense (Stoops’s specialty). Expect improvements from both teams on those respective sides of the ball, though the Gators’ offense would have to come a long way to beat the Wildcats by the same total it took down the Minutemen by one week ago. As such, I see a relatively low-scoring affair that should fall under that number.
2016 records: ATS picks 0-1 | O/U picks 0-1
Injuries and absences
Suspended (1): Unnamed “Senior”
Active (5): CB Jalen Tabor, DB Duke Dawson (arm), TE C’yontai Lewis, WR Tyrie Cleveland, WR Rick Wells
Probable/questionable (2): LB Daniel McMillian (ankle), WR C.J. Worton (ankle)
Out (2): DB Quincy Lenton (foot), WR Kalif Jackson (knee)
Out for the season (3): WR Dre Massey (knee), OL Antonio Riles (knee), DB C.J. McWilliams (undisclosed)
» Florida is 49-17 all-time against Kentucky with a 29-game winning streak in the overall series, the longest active streak against a single opponent in the nation. UF has also defeated UK 18 straight times in The Swamp, dating back to 1979.
» The Wildcats have won their second game of the season in 18 straight years. Something’s got to give.
» The Gators won their 27th consecutive season opener last week, extending the nation’s longest active winning streak in game ones. UF is now 83-27 all-time in openers, 68-7 in The Swamp.
» The Gators’ defense has been a hallmark of the program; UF is now 205-11 since 1990 when an opponent scores 21 points or fewer in a contest, including 10-0 under McElwain.
» Also under McElwain, UF is 10-0 against unranked opponents and 1-4 against ranked opponents. The Gators are 9-0 when outrushing an opponent and 8-0 when leading at the half.
» Florida owns the nation’s longest streak of returning either a kickoff or punt for a touchdown, doing so in 11 straight seasons. It has yet to accomplish that in 2016.
» UF has the second-most wins in the nation since 1990 (250).
» Florida is 0-5 against the spread both in its last five home games and its last five nonconference games.
Quote of the week
“Us, letdown [game]? We’re 0-3 after the end of the year last year, right? We got our tails kicked. We got to show up no matter what it is. … Great teams, the opponents don’t matter. It’s the personal part of the preparation and play and taking pride in who you are and what you’re all about to go out and compete no matter who you’re playing. It doesn’t matter. That’s where we’ve got to learn the Florida Gators can’t be up and down, up and down. They’ve got to understand a level and a certain standard where you have to go about your business to be a champion. Are we there yet? No. No. But the understanding that it’s an opportunity — Saturday’s an opportunity, take advantage of it.” — Jim McElwain
Florida will wear orange jerseys, orange pants and traditional orange helmets. The team captains, which change weekly, are solely responsible for choosing the uniforms ahead of each game. (Though marketing probably gave them few choices this week.)