By: Robert Craft
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
Florida Gator football started out strong in its season opener against Utah on Saturday, in which the Orange and Blue put up a gritty, 29-26 win.
The victory represents the first for the program in the Billy Napier era, while extending the Gators’ longest-active home-opener win streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which stands at 33 straight games.
With the big win now in the rearview mirror, Napier and company turn their attention to their SEC opener against the Kentucky Wildcats at home this coming Saturday.
The ‘Cats, led by Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback Will Levis, represent another top-25 matchup for the Gators that will test their revamped squad.
The main concern the Cats have going into Gainesville, however, will be the play of the running back and the offensive line.
Let’s first start with the running backs. With the absence of Chris Rodriguez due to suspension, I didn’t think the Cats’ running backs would struggle against Miami of Ohio. On the night Kavosiey Smoke led the rushing attack with seven carries for 32 yards, while the other trio of Ramon Jefferson, JuTahn McClain, and La’Vell Wright all combined for 11 carries and a total of 36 yards.
That won’t be enough to help push the Cats over Florida. Here’s why:
For the offensive-line, it seemed their youth played a huge role against Miami of Ohio. After giving up four sacks on the night, the question now changes to; can they hold up against the Gators front seven?
It will be interesting to see, but Coach Zach Yenser has his work cut out for him this week as he tries to help the young O-line process through the different schemes and stunt recognition they will see Saturday night.
Defensively, it comes down to whether the Cats can contain the run game or not.
Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson stole the show in week one. The highly-touted recruit from Gainesville was only used sparingly as a true freshman under Dan Mullen.
In his first start for Napier, Richardson completed 17-of-24 passes for 168 yards, while he rushed for a team-high 106 yards and 3 touchdowns.
For Florida to reach their ceiling, the young quarterback has to carry the team.
Utah was unable to slow Richardson down and wasted a solid offensive performance due to the defense’s inability to limit quarterback runs.
Kentucky must find a way to make the NFL prospect play strictly from the pocket. With that being said, it’s way easier said than done.
In many ways, the game on Saturday will come down to Kentucky limiting Florida’s ground game. That is only done if the Wildcats can get Anthony Richardson on the ground.
The Gators O-line performed well opening holes for the running game and allowing no sacks.
Florida went 31 years without suffering a loss to the Kentucky Wildcats but has a 2-2 record in the last four games. Credit to Mark Stoops. He took over a program that was second-fiddle to basketball and has built a culture that they recruit and play to consistently win. Stoops has two 10-win seasons and more wins over Florida than his six predecessors combined.
With that said, it is going to be a battle on Saturday night. The crowd, weather (heat, rain & humidity) and overall team talent leads me to pick the Gators by 2 scores.
Florida 31 Kentucky 20