USA Today/Dale Zanine

A look at Florida's first SEC opponent of the year

Florida will open up its SEC schedule on Saturday against Kentucky. goes behind enemy lines to get a better look at this week's opponents.

The Florida Gators will open up conference play on Saturday when they host Kentucky. The Wildcats have not beaten Florida in the last 29 attempts.

"We treat Kentucky as any other team," said Gators defensive tackle Khairi Clark about the winning streak over the SEC team.  "We’re just trying to beat them. It doesn’t matter about a streak. We’re just trying to get the ’W’. They can come out hard, but we have to be the harder preparation team. We’re not even worried about that." 

"Those streak things, I don’t know. I think it’s something to write about," said Florida head coach Jim McElwain. "But really every year’s different. Right now it’s 0-0. These two teams have never played, and I think that’s the key.”

The Cats are coming into the game trying to shake off a 44-35 loss to Southern Miss, after collapsing in the second half and losing a three-score lead. Here is an inside look at this week's opponents. 

The Offense 

Nine starters returned for Kentucky this season on offense, however, that list did not include quarterback, Patrick Towles. It's Drew Barker's time under center and despite the loss last weekend, Barker was a bright spot for head coach Mark Stoops. The sophomore completed over 60 percent of his passes for 323-yards, four touchdowns and an interception. 

"This guy scares me a little bit because he’s more athletic than I would have liked him to be," said UF defensive line coach Chris Rumph. "Saying that, sometimes you see when the pocket  breaks down this guy can move you. He’s a big guy. You watch the film, you see guys bouncing off him a lot. Good thing about it is he’s not looking to run the ball all the time. He’s looking downfield trying to create a throw. He’s out there acting like Brett Favre. One time he tried to flip it underhand to a receiver in the boundary.

"It’s a little scary. Now the defensive backs are going to have to really cover. We’ve got to cover our sprint rules when this guy breaks the pocket or he’s running around. The defensive linemen, we just can’t t-high and let it fly. We have to really control the pocket and push the pocket, move to spot. When we get a chance we’ve got to get the guy on the ground.” 

In the first half Kentucky's passing game worked well, showing they have they have the ability to make several explosive plays-seven of these plays were 30-yards or more, four 40-yards of more.  

“They like to the throw the ball around. And we like teams that like to throw," joked Florida defensive back Quincy Wilson“Watching them on film, they like to take shots downfield. I think it’s a great matchup, They’ve got fast guys, we’ve got fast guys. Good receivers, good DBs. It’s going to be a good game," 

Wide receiver Garrett Johnson had two touchdown receptions in the loss. But on the ground, the Gators will need to watch out for Boom Williams, who averaged 7.2-yards per carry. He finished the day with 94-yards on 13 carriers against Southern Miss. 

“They have some good backs," said Joey Ivie. "So like I said, we’ve gotta stay fundamentally sound, have great technique, keep our gaps, you know, we gotta be able to play great defense. And we gotta be able to contain the quarterback and contain the running back.”

"They’re very explosive players," added linebacker Jarrad Davis. "Those are guys that are very hard to tackle. Not just because they’re gonna out-physical you, but they're gonna make you miss. So you have to be in control when you come to tackle those guys." 

Kentucky's offensive line boasts a lot of experience with four starters from last year's team, including center Jon Toth

"Those guys move well. In the second half, they just saw the collapse a little bit for whatever reason,"said Rumph about the Cats line. "But we know if that first half-team shows up for both halves we're going to have a fight on our hands."

The offense is under its third different coordinator in three years. It is lead by co-offensive coordinators Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw. 

The Defense

In last week's game, the defense allowed 520-yards of offense. Last year's defense yielded 27.4 points per game and just under 400-yards a game. In other words, teams are expected to score against them.   In its loss last week, UK had the ball for less than 20 minutes because the defense was unable to stop Southern Miss on third down. Fatigue also played a role in the end since the offense's longest drive that day was 2:04. 

Last week's numbers could very well be growing pains for Kentucky. The Wildcats lost a lot on this side of the ball, only returning one starter in their front seven.

The visitors will also be without senior Linebacker Jason Hatcher after he was dismissed from the team this summer. Sophomores Denzel Ware and Josh Allen will need to step up in the pass rush. Kentucky did welcome two transfers, linebackers, Courtney Love from Nebraska and De'Niro Laster from Minnesota.

"Very physical, very big up front," said Tyler Jordan. "They have one big nose tackle, but they are going to come in and play, so we just have to bring our 'A' game." 

However, the team's biggest strength defensively is its secondary. The unit is made up of mostly veterans including: Marcus McWilsonChris Westry and Derrick Baity


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