Vanderbilt Review / Kentucky Preview

Florida played it’s typical game at Nashville against an outmanned Vanderbilt team, leaving with a less-than-inspiring 38-17 win.  The Gators started out slow through most of the first half before taking the lead with under a minute to go, then stretched the lead in the second half before a sloppy finish.

The Florida offense ran up almost 600 yards and 38 points, but it’s telling that compared to the unbelievably high bar it has set this season it felt like a mediocre performance.  Kyle Trask had a good but not great afternoon with 383 yards and 3 TDs, but still missed some big plays.  The running game was adequate but lacked explosive plays.  Kemore Gamble filled in well again for the missing Kyle Pitts with 2 TD catches, while Kedarious Toney contributed a TD catch but also a fumble deep in Commodore territory that ended a probable TD drive.  Trevon Grimes has stepped up his play the past 3 games, and is finally looking like the star he was expected to be this season.  The O-line blocked pretty well, but took a step back from the previous 2 games.  Plenty of backups were able to see action, and Emory Jones led a nice TD drive in the 4th quarter both running and passing to ice the game.

The defense, however……  Another lackluster effort filed with busts in coverage and poor tackling against a true freshman QB and a Vandy team missing multiple starters.  They allowed an opening-drive TD (for the 3rd game in a row) and then a go-ahead FG right after the Gator offense responded.  From the middle of the second quarter until early in the 4th quarter the unit started to play better – especially against the run – but then lost it’s focus again and was gashed for some long plays and a TD catch-and-run highlighted by missed tackles and poor angles.  It’s shocking to continue to see the secondary late to line up and/or blow assignments.  Most of these guys are highly-rated recruits with 3 or more years in the program.  If that’s not an indictment on the Defensive Coordinator I don’t know what is.  Sadly, at this late point in the season it likely doesn’t improve much (if at all), and the offense is on the hook with the pressure of having to score 40+ points almost every game.

The Gators return home this week to host Kentucky.  The Wildcats were eviscerated at Alabama 63-3 last week after keeping the game close for the first 20 minutes and then completely collapsing.  Kentucky (again) had no effective passing game,and were down some starters on both offense and defense due to Covid-19 protocols.  It wouldn’t have mattered too much, though, as Bama right now is outclassing the rest of the SEC by quite a distance……including Florida.  QB Terry Wilson is struggling mightily throwing the ball, and backup Joey Gatewood is essentially a TE who can run but not throw.  They are completely one-dimensional right now, but against the Gator defense that still could be enough to pull an upset.

I expect the Wildcats to display an effective, physical run game against the Gator defense.  I also expect to see 50+ carries by Kentucky to try and shorten the game, keep Florida’s offense off of the field, and somehow keep the game close enough to try and steal it in the 4th quarter.  Their O-line is big and physical, and RBs Chris Rodriquez, Asim Rose, and Kavosiey Smoke are tough runners.  Either QB is an effective runner as well, so I expect head coach MIke Stoops to pound away all afternoon until they are (hopefully) forced to throw if they fall behind.  Florida’s front seven is on notice this week, and had better be ready for a rough, physical afternoon of smash-mouth football.  Tedarrell Slaton and Kyree Campbell need to play as well as they did against Georgia to help the rest of the defenders.  Hopefully the defense has a healthy contingent of both starters and backups, as they could be on the field a lot.  I hope not, but I also haven’t seen much to convince me otherwise.

Kentucky’s defense has struggled against the pass this season, so that should portend well for Trask and his receivers.  Pitts returns after missing the past 2 games, which just creates more headaches for their defense.  I expect much more passing from Dan Mullen this week after working the running game against Arkansas and Vanderbilt, knowing his passing offense was always ready to ramp things up if needed.  The Wildcat D-line is actually good, and will give Florida’s O-line some trouble.  The run game will still be mixed in for some balance, but the RBs could be contributors this week in the passing game, as I expect UK to concentrate on taking away as much as they can downfield, forcing Trask to stay patient.

The Gators should have extra motivation after Kentucky came into the Swamp 2 seasons ago and ended their 31 game losing streak to Florida.  However, the defense continues to struggle so badly that nothing can be taken for granted.  I hope the Gators can run away and hide in the first half, but something tells me that won’t be the case, and that there could be some tense moments in the second half.  Finally, the Wildcats could be down even more players due to Covid issues, so perhaps that shows up in the second half if the Gator offense can get ahead early and wear Kentucky down.

Prediction: Florida 38 Kentucky 24