Last week, the Florida Gators escaped The Swamp with a 31-24 win over the East Carolina Pirates. This week, the Gators will begin conference play against SEC Eastern Division foe the Kentucky Wildcats.
Florida currently has a 28-game winning streak over Kentucky, which is the longest active streak in FBS against a single opponent. The Wildcats will field their most talented team in years at Commonwealth Stadium.
Here are some of the players to watch for in Saturday’s contest between Florida and Kentucky.
1. Patrick Towles, QB, Kentucky
Last year against Florida, Towles threw three of his nine interceptions in the close loss to the Gators. The junior also has been prone to turnovers in his first two games this season against Louisiana-Lafayette and South Carolina.
While Towles has thrown for 449 yards and three touchdowns, he has also thrown two interceptions. Throughout his career, Towles has always been inconsistent. He will need a clean game against the Gators from start to finish if Kentucky is going to win in Lexington on Saturday.
2. Will Grier, QB, Florida
Grier made the first start of his college career against East Carolina. After an excellent performance in relief against New Mexico State, Grier struggled against the Pirates.
The redshirt freshman completed 10-of-17 passes for 151 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Florida will want to run the ball effectively with its stable of running back, but Grier will have to make plays in his first road game under center.
Commonwealth Stadium isn’t one of the most intimating venues in the SEC, but 61,000 people is still a big crowd for a freshman in his first road start.
3. Keanu Neal, S, Florida
The Florida secondary struggled last weekend against East Carolina, giving up 346 passing yards to the Pirates. The Gators were without two key players in their secondary, but the team will get one of those players back against the Wildcats.
Head coach Jim McElwain pronounced Neal as “ready to roll” after missing the team’s first two game of the season due to a hamstring injury he suffered during fall camp.
In 10 games last season for the Gators, Neal recorded 45 tackles and was second on the team in interceptions with three (two of them against Kentucky). With cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III questionable for Saturday’s game, the Gators have to be delighted to get one of the integral players of their secondary back.
4. Chris Westry, CB, Kentucky
In his first conference game on the road, the freshman Westry received a big honor. The cornerback was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his outstanding performance against the South Carolina Gamecocks last week. Westry recorded two tackles, a sack, a pass breakup and the game-winning interception. He will likely be lined up against Florida’s best receiver, Demarcus Robinson, most of Saturday night.
Last season, Robinson burned the Kentucky defense as he recorded 15 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns. Westry will have his hands full covering one of the best receivers in the SEC.
5. Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Taylor was in the news this week, but for the wrong reasons. Taylor’s throat-slashing penalty, after the Gators scored a touchdown to give them a 14-point lead with 6:57 left in the game, set up a East Carolina touchdown to cut the advantage to just seven. McElwain made sure Taylor knew how he felt about the bad decision in a display that received plenty of attention of its own after the fact.
The junior did lead the Gators in rushing with 55 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. With so many questions about which player gives Florida the best chance to win, Taylor may be needed to help lead the Gators to victory.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.