Kentucky Football: Keys To Upsetting The Florida Gators
The Kentucky football program is in desperate need of a victory over the Florida Gators. What must it do to defeat its bitter rival?
Saturday, September 10 may go down as the single most important day in the history of the Kentucky football program. No matter what else transpires in 2016, a win on Saturday would make this season something of a success.
Next on the schedule is the Florida Gators—a team that the Kentucky Wildcats haven’t defeated a single time since 2016.
With head coach Mark Stoops firmly on the hot seat, Kentucky will look to end a 30-year drought. Florida appears to be vulnerable after barely escaping a clash with the Massachusetts Minutemen, but this is far from a game to take lightly.
Kentucky has lost 29 consecutive games to the Gators for a reason: it hasn’t executed in the necessary manner.
A year ago, the Wildcats dropped a 14-9 heartbreaker to the Gators at Commonwealth Stadium. The game will move from Lexington to Gainesville in 2016, with last year’s five-point loss serving as a reminder of how dominant Florida’s defense can be.
The question is: what exactly must the Wildcats do to overcome the Gators in Gainesville on Saturday, September 10?
The Turnover Battle
The first half of Kentucky’s clash with the Southern Miss Golden Eagles was a responsibly played pair of quarters. The Wildcats took care of the ball, made responsible passes, and created turnovers via wise defensive gambles.
Though the Florida Gators still have questions to answer offensively, the defense is far too strong to be careless with the ball in Week 2.
Drew Barker and the Wildcats weren’t terrible with the ball, but they had their fair share of hiccups in the second half. Barker threw an interception and fumbled the ball on a sack after playing a nearly flawless game in the first half.
If Barker and the running backs can’t take care of the ball against the Gators, the Wildcats will have no chance at all of winning in Gainesville.
Defensively, the Wildcats will need to give the offense quality field position by continuing to force turnovers. J.D. Harmon had two interceptions and Blake McClain had a third, which is momentum that Kentucky must carry over into Week 2.
If Kentucky wants to stand even the slightest of chances of pulling out this upset, it must make sure it takes care of the ball and capitalizes on opportunities.
Stop The Run
Nick Mullens played a brilliant second half for the Southern Miss Golden Eagles during Kentucky’s Week 1 collapse. For as much praise as he deserves, the key to Southern Miss achieving success was the running game.
Against a Conference USA opponent, the Wildcats allowed 262 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns, and two 100-yard runners.
Ito Smith is one of the best running backs in the country, but there’s no excuse for allowing one player to accumulate 173 rushing yards. Smith got whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it during Week 1.
To make matters worse, George Payne ran for 100 yards on 16 carries—the same George Payne who ran for a grand total of 271 yards through all of 2015.
Smith and Payne are admittedly a dynamic combination, but they ran for a combined 273 rushing yards. That inevitably helped Southern Miss open up the field for the passing game to find openings within Kentucky’s defense.
If the Wildcats are unable to stop the run against the Florida Gators, Luke Del Rio will have too many opportunities to exploit the middle of the field.
Play Four Quarters
During the season opener, the Kentucky Wildcats came out firing with an explosive offensive attack. Drew Barker threw four touchdown passes in the first half, Jojo Kemp found the end zone for a fifth, and Kentucky’s defense dominated Nick Mullens.
Unfortunately, Kentucky seemed to stop playing after the fifth touchdown, which thus led it to blowing a 35-10 lead and losing 44-35.
If the Wildcats jump out to an early lead over the Florida Gators, they can’t make the same mistake twice. A game isn’t over until the final seconds tick off the clock, and Kentucky learned that the hard way.
Making the same mistake against a team as defensively dangerous as Florida would result in Kentucky succumbing to defeat yet again.
Florida’s defense is going to test Barker, but he can’t get discouraged or overly confident. He’ll have some rough moments on the road in Gainesville, but he needs to display a case of short-term memory.
With 29 consecutive losses hanging over Kentucky’s head, the players need to play their hearts out from start to finish.
History isn’t working in Kentucky’s favor, but they play the games for a reason.
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