The Gators took care of business with a 45-0 plucking of the SkyHawks in the home opener. This was a mismatch from the start, as the defense completely shut down the UTM attack, while the offense was nothing more than workmanlike. Plenty of young players were able to see extended action, as the coaching staff was able to clear the bench starting in the second half. The offense is still struggling to establish the running game – the right side of the O-line is still a weakness right now, and unless this improves starting this week with the SEC schedule, it will cost the team in the big games coming up. The offense ended the night with over 200 yards rushing, but that was deceiving, as many of those yards came after UTM was worn down and backups were playing. Once again the pass blocking was solid, allowing Franks to complete 25 of 27 passes, including 2 long TDs to Jefferson and Cleveland. The game plan was pretty vanilla with no disguises put on film for Kentucky to study. The defense controlled the LOS all night, only allowing a few long runs and one pass well after the game was settled and backups littered the field.
Unfortunately, the night didn’t go as well as planned, as both CJ Henderson and Kedarious Toney were injured in the 2nd quarter and never returned. It appears Toney will be out with a shoulder injury until at least the Auburn game, while CJH may miss this week and possibly the next with an ankle sprain. It’s the one thing I always hope doesn’t happen against these overmatched opponents – injuries to key players.
It’s on the Bluegrass State for the SEC opener against the Wildcats. Speaking of injuries, Kentucky received some bad news with the loss of starting QB Terry Wilson to a knee injury for the rest of 2019, so backup transfer Sawyer Smith gets thrown into the fire against a formidable Gator defense and pass rush. Head Coach Mark Stoops is saying that the offense really won’t change that much, but we’ll see. I expect the Wildcats to try and shorten the game by grinding out first downs with the running game featuring Kavosley Smoke and Asim Rose to keep the score close and try to steal a win late. If Florida can win first down, it will be a long night for Smith and their passing game, as the Gators lead the nation in sacks with 15 and have a host of pass rushers ready to deliver some pain. Smith is not the athlete nor runner that Wilson was, and that will hurt when plays start to break down. Brad Stewart returns from suspension this week and will be a welcome upgrade at safety. DC Todd Grantham should have some exotic packages dialed up for the new starting QB to apply constant pressure and confuse him with new looks. It will be interesting to see how aggressive he is calling the defense – does he come after the new QB early and often, or force him to make reads? The defense was been susceptible to screens and draws, and It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Kentucky use some of these.
On offense, I hope that Mullen isn’t too stubborn to go to the passing game early, especially if the running game continues to struggle. The Wildcats have a NG and DT each over 350 lbs., so perhaps running some misdirection and counters to get those big guys moving the wrong way could help. The deep passing game has really come along, and it may be decisive again this week. A few big plays to make some scoring drives easier could go a long way towards a win. I expect some throws to Perine to slow the pass rush, while Jacob Copeland gets the chance to fill in for Toney and show why he was one of the most highly-recruited athletes in the 2018 class.
The Gators should have no problem being highly motivated for this game, as they’ve had to listen for an entire year how they blew the 31-game winning streak in the series last year, at the Swamp, and how they were physically manhandled at the LOS.
This is a huge game for the Gators – take advantage of Kentucky’s injury problems and win the SEC opener before coming home for Tennessee. It’s time to finally start playing closer to expectations – especially on offense – and start building to a peak before the big games in October.