Four Downs: Kentucky Wildcats from Sunshine State loom large in matchup with Gators

In this edition of All Wildcats' "Four Downs," we take a close look at Kentucky players from the Sunshine State who must play big on Saturday if the Cats are to end a 29-game losing streak to the Gators. The UK roster features 14 Florida natives, and many play key roles, but these will be the biggest in the SEC opener at The Swamp.

1. Garrett Johnson, WR

The Winter Garden native opened his junior season with a bang, catching six passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns in Kentucky's season opener against Southern Miss to become only the 25th player in school history to record more than 1,000 yards receiving in a career. The Cats will need more explosive plays from Johnson on Saturday against a Florida defense that allowed only seven points last week against UMass. Many UK and UF fans alike will remember that "Juice" had a huge game the last time the Cats visited Gainesville, catching six passes for 154 yards and two scores as the Big Blue took the Gators to triple overtime. Look for him to draw a lot of attention from Florida's top cover man, Teez Tabor. His 18 passes defended in 2015 ranked No. 13 nationally as opponents tested him often lined up opposite future NFL Draft pick Vernon Hargreaves III.  

2. Nick Haynes and Ramsey Meyers, OG

We'll cheat a bit and list this duo as one position. Coming off a disastrous second half in which they failed to score against Southern Miss, you can bet it's not been a fun week for the UK offense. In order to correct the problems that plagued them in the second half of the opener -- and to replicate the good things that allowed them to post 35 points in the first half -- the Cats must be strong at the point of attack against a Gators defensive front that is typically formidable. Haynes, a junior from Niceville, and Meyers, a junior from Orange Park, will play a key role occupying the left and right guard, respectively, alongside Jon Toth at center. If Kentucky has any hope of pulling an upset, one must think the Cats can't afford to have its defense on the field for anywhere near the 95 snaps it played last week. That means the ground game must be strong. Florida allowed UMass only 46 net rushing yards last week, so it won't be easy. The Gators have nice D-Linemen in the form of Caleb Brantley (10.5 career tackles for loss), Bryan Cox Jr. (18.5 career TFL, 9.5 career sacks) and Cece Jefferson (3.5 sacks as a freshman in 2015).  

3. Chris Westry and Derrick Baity, CB

Again taking some liberties with two players at one position... Westry had tons of accolades tossed his way during the off-season and was frequently mentioned as one of the elite corners in the SEC entering the 2016 season. The Orange Park native did not have his best game in the opener, a tough night which featured a key pass interference penalty that helped Southern Miss extended a scoring drive during the nightmarish second half. Mark Stoops & Co. have challenged him and Tampa native Baity on the other corner to have a bigger impact in their return home. The Gators threw the ball surprisingly well in their opener as new starting quarterback Luke Del Rio completed 29 of 44 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. We don't expect the Gators to throw the ball as much in this matchup, but if they do, Westry and Baity have to be the lockdown corners they've been advertised to be. The 6-foot-4 Westry and 6-3 Baity will have a huge size advantage over Florida's top wide receivers, the 5-9 Brandon Powell (7-73, TD last week) or the 5-11 Antonio Callaway (8-72, TD last week).  

4. Jojo Kemp, RB

Kemp remains slotted with Boom Williams as the Cats' expected starter at tailback for this game, but don't be surprised if the DeLand native is on the field first for UK. The senior leader has been dreaming of a win over the Gators since the first day he set foot on campus. He's come close in each of his last two attempts, and this will likely be his final opportunity. As we noted above, if UK has any shot to win, it must run the ball more effectively than it did last week (25 carries, 96 yards, 3.8 ypc) if for no other reason than to keep the Cats' defense on the sidelines. The heat index is expected to be near 100 degrees on Saturday at The Swamp, and the team whose defense is on the field the longest is surely going to pay a heavy toll. In Kemp's three previous meetings with Florida, he's had only 22, 23 and 19 yards rushing. He'll forget about those long days against the Gators if he can deliver a big performance this time.  

AllWildcats Top Stories