Additionally, Florida needs to re-establish The Swamp as a place opposing teams enter with trepidation. Five home losses in two years have changed that "aura" at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and only a home sweep this year
will begin the process of reinstating a truly dominant home field advantage.
A sweep would send the Gators to Starkville with a 5-and-1 record, a real chance at capturing the SEC East and a likely top-12 ranking in the polls. Anything less and Florida is likely looking at the Peach Bowl.
WILDCATS POSE SOME PROBLEMS
The first question must be, which Kentucky offense is the real one? Is it the inept bunch that was shutout by Louisville, gaining just 238 yards and turning it over three times? Or is it the juggernaut that ran up 51 points on Indiana with 560 total yards?
While it is likely the answer lies somewhere between those two extremes, Kentucky does present some problems. QB Shane Boyd is a threat both running and throwing. Boyd impressed me as a freshman three years ago, but for the past two seasons has suffered from "scubbeenie syndrome". It's a malady which affects backup quarterbacks, causing them to become lazy and indifferent due to the frustration of not getting any playing time. The only cure is a transfer, or the departure of the starter in the way.
With Jared Lorenzen gone, this is Boyd's team. Florida must keep him contained on the ground while pressuring him when the ‘Cats throw. Kentucky likes to throw short to their rather large receivers and let them try and make plays. Florida's corner play will have to tighten up, Gator linebackers will have to handle the option and speedy tailback Tony Dixon and Florida's defensive linemen will all have to raise their game.
Defensively Kentucky is not all that good, but they get a big boost with the return of linebacker Dustin Williams. He was 3rd team All-SEC last year but has played very little in the first two weeks due to a hamstring injury. He is scheduled to start and will dramatically improve a defense that has allowed over 400 yards on the ground the first two weeks.
Their best player is Sweet Pea Burns, a strong defensive lineman who warrants extra attention. They have good players at safety with Mike Williams and Muhammad Abdullah, but their corners are vulnerable.
Overall, Florida is a 19-point favorite. That seems a little bit high to me, but a 41-24 win sounds about right.
CAN'T DEVELOP DEPTH ON THE SIDELINES
If there is one area where the Gators must show dramatic improvement this week it is in getting more defensive players on the field. Florida's reserve linebackers did not play a single snap against Tennessee, and substitutions were minimal at several other positions. It does no good to claim to have a more talented, athletic team if the young athletes don't get consistent, meaningful playing time. And a team that has trouble putting opponents away needs fresher legs in the fourth quarter when close games are decided.
Say what you will about FSU Defensive Coordinator Mickey Andrews, he is the best I have ever seen at getting playing time for young players from day one. It's risky, but it pays off in the long run. Even when FSU has to replace three starters at LB, the transition is rather seamless since we have already seen a lot of Sam McGrew, Buster Davis, AJ Nicholson, Ernie Sims et al.
Nobody with a brain cell would list Kentucky among Florida's top rivals on the gridiron, but the Gators and Wildcats have played a handful of memorable games. Here are five that stand out to me:
1980---- Brian Clark kicks game-winning FG for a 17-15 win, earning the Gators a Tangerine Bowl bid. Don't laugh, one year after 0-10-and-1 a bowl bid was a big deal. And there weren't 20 bowls back then. They actually got the bid at the airport upon their return.
1984---- Wildcats put up a fight while Gators are pursuing their first SEC Title. After a Kentucky touchdown is called back (SEE, SEC refs don't always screw the Gators) Adrian White intercepts a pass, clinching a 25-17 win and setting off dancing in the streets in Gainesville. It also led to the most memorable line Norm Carlson has ever uttered, "Oh Adrian, you don't know what you've just done for Gators everywhere". I capped off the evening flying back with the team and broadcasting live from the celebration at Florida Field. I still have the cigar I grabbed in the locker room after the game. A cheap cigar, but it's one of my favorite "things".
1986---- It's 38 degrees, damp and breezy. Gator Offensive Tackle David Williams tells me during warm ups, "man it's colder than a witch's (deleted…think Janet Jackson) out here". Gators played like Eskimos and lost a 10-3 yawner…. The last time Florida has come up short to Kentucky.
1993---- Doering's Got A Touchdown, Doering's Got A Touchdown! I was on the field, getting ready to host the ppv post-game with Frank Frangie when Doering ran by a Wildcat linebacker on his way to Gator immortality. Frank insists I yelled, "He's Open!" just before Danny Wuerffel threw the ball, but I honestly don't remember doing it….. but I did see it.
2003---- One of the greatest comebacks in school history is engineered by a true freshman as Florida scores 21 fourth-quarter points to rally past the Wildcats 24-21. Lorenzen being flung around by Channing Crowder as he throws an interception to Johnny Lamar is a memorable visual.
Nothing from the e-mail bag this time, but I do encourage you to write directly with any questions or comments you may have. I will respond in the column, or directly if you prefer.
My email address is: email@example.com .
Finally, I look forward to you joining me on the radio, Sunday nights from 6:00-to-8:00 on Gainesville's WSKY-FM 97.3 (877/975-9825 toll free)