Dan Mullen got his tenure in Gainesville off to a good start last weekend, as the Florida Gators pulled off a 53-6 romp of Charleston Southern. Although this wasn’t the greatest team to face, Feleipe Franks looked to have strong command of the offense and tossed five TD passes. The defense only allowed six points, but were gashed on a few occasions by the Buccaneer triple-option attack. Florida was actually out rushed in the game, 222-203.
The Kentucky Wildcats, in what has been an uncomfortably common occurrence over the last few years, trailed by double digits at home to a non-P5 opponent during their season opener. The Central Michigan Chippewas jumped out to a 17-7 lead late in the 2nd quarter, but the Wildcats recovered and turned in a 35-20 victory. The stars of the day were the running backs (Benny Snell and A.J. Rose combined for 228 yards) and the defense, which only allowed 13 points. These 13 points were also surrendered to a CMU offense that was aided by short fields caused by UK’s four 1st half turnovers.
It’s hard to tell who will emerge as UK’s guy behind center as the season rolls on. Terry Wilson threw two picks in the 1st half vs. CMU, but looked to be more settled in the 2nd half. Gunnar Hoak tossed a nice TD pass to David Bouvier, but does not give the offense the same options on the ground that Wilson does. Both combined for a less than stellar 128 yards passing.
The Gators and Wildcats will step onto Steve Spurrier-Florida Field on Saturday night. It could be the most interesting mindsets two opponents can have this week. It’s hard to say which team is facing more pressure heading into this one. Kentucky has what has grown from a monkey, to a gorilla and now into a mountain shaped like an ape on their backs because of “The Streak.”
Florida has the diligent eyes of Gator Nation watching and expecting them to maintain their streak. 31 straight years is a hilariously long time to lose to the same team, but also to beat the same team. It’s frankly ridiculous from either perspective.
So what’s on tap for the 2018 edition?
1. Can Florida really get their offense going?
Last week was a good start, but it will interesting to see how Florida looks against a conference foe. The Gators were downright anemic last season when they had the ball, averaging a paltry 22.1 points per game. It will be interesting to see if this was a coaching problem or a player problem. In the game vs. Kentucky last season, Florida had to be gifted two TDs in the form of uncovered receivers in order to score 28 points. Pundits and fans alike expect more with Dan Mullen now in charge.
2. Will someone separate in the UK QB race?
Terry Wilson has been named starter for this week, but you can only assume that his leash will still be short. Florida is certainly not CMU and things will speed up. Along with a more talented defense, Wilson also enters his first away game in one of the last stadiums you’d want your road debut to happen in as a QB. Can he shake off the jitters and get the offense operating at its full potential or will Hoak be behind center later in the game?
3. How will both teams fare mentally?
Three out of the last four matchups in this series have been decided by six points or less. Obviously, Florida has been victorious in all of these games. If the game is close again on Saturday, can UK avoid crucial mental mistakes and play composed enough to pull the upset? On the flip side, can the Gators be sure not to get too complacent? At this point, it seems like a universal law for them to win this game and that could play directly into Kentucky’s hands.
With a 32nd consecutive victory over Kentucky on Saturday, Florida would move into a 3rd place tie for the longest winning streak against one opponent in FBS history. The Oklahoma Sooners managed to beat the Kansas State Wildcats in 32 straight seasons from 1937 to 1968. If Kentucky wins, not only will the mountain be off their backs, some would argue that finally beating Florida is the last missing piece in the puzzle for the UK football program to reach their full potential in terms of both program growth and national respect.
Look for it to be a close, tense and chippy affair under the lights in the Swamp.
HOW TO WATCH
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Commentators: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, Cole Cubelic
Odds: Florida -14, O/U 51 (via OddsShark)