Stephen Johnson and the Wildcats look to end their 30-game losing streak to the Gators
This could finally be the year that the Kentucky Wildcats end their long losing streak against one of their rivals, the Florida Gators. Kentucky has not defeated Florida since Nov. 15, 1986, losing their last 30 meetings to the Gators.
Kentucky has started the season 3-0, defeating South Carolina 23-13 in Week 3. Florida had a thrilling last-second 26-20 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers, as Tyrie Cleveland hauled in a 63-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks as time expired.
Florida leads the overall series against Kentucky 50-17.
Florida at Kentucky
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Network: SEC Network
Spread: Florida -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Feleipe Franks
Franks, of course, was the talk of Gainesville after his game-winning 63-yard touchdown pass against the Volunteers. Overall, Franks had an OK day, finishing 18-of-28 for 212 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. That was an improvement over his 5-of-9, 75-yard performance against Michigan in Week 1. Against Tennessee, Florida’s offense found its groove in the final three drives, scoring 20 fourth-quarter points. After some doubt, it appears that Franks is the Gators' quarterback of the future. How he improves over the course of the season will determine how far Florida can go.
2. Kentucky’s offense
In Kentucky’s last two games, against Eastern Kentucky and South Carolina, the Wildcats have scored only two offensive touchdowns. The question for Kentucky: Can quarterback Stephen Johnson generate enough offense to defeat Florida?
Through two games, the Gators rank 100th in the country in total defense, allowing an average of 437.5 yards per game. Florida has also given up 26.5 points per game during their first two games. However, the Gators’ defensive backs have generated more touchdowns this season (three) than the UF offense (two). Freshman cornerback C.J. Henderson has had a pick-six in both of Florida’s games this season, taking an interception 41 yards to the house against Michigan and 16 yards for a score against Tennessee.
3. Gators' running game
While it is admittedly a small sample size, the Gators haven’t been able run the football effectively. Florida ranks 117th nationally in rushing, averaging only 89.5 yards on the ground.
Florida’s offensive line has been a primary reason for the Gators' struggles in the running game. They have failed to make holes for their running backs, and the line's struggles have also affected Franks and the Gators' passing game.
Saturday’s game is very winnable for both the Gators and Wildcats, so it will likely come down to who protects the football better. Florida blew a late lead to Tennessee last week before Franks’ last-second heave bailed them out and prevented overtime. Kentucky has been solid defensively, but the Wildcats have had issues finding the end zone on offense. This game could come down to a last-second field goal.
Prediction: Kentucky 23, Florida 20
— 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, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.